NSF grant, $298,995, supports student research projects

Kesha Williams
August 28, 2013nsf-grant-298995-supp Three ECSU biology students found a practical, summer research project just a few miles away from campus. A $298,995 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) supports research by Dr. Eyualem Abebe and students who collect soil samples near a former fuel site at the local Coast Guard base. Shawnette Toney, Kenya Holley and Juanette Roache are undergraduates majoring in biology A 2010 study by the researchers at N.C. State University's Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources indicates residual fuel lies below the surface. The site is located within 150 meters of the Pasquotank River. Remediation efforts that reduce any leakage of fuel to the river will have a critical role in improving environmental health. The oil resulted from an underground depot that once was a fuel source for coast guard airplanes. The depot has been closed for many years. The NSF grant allows Abebe and the students to identify microscopic worms in the soil and soil microorganisms at that site. The NSF's Historical Black College Undergraduate Program seeks to use opportunities like this one to help students see the relevance of biology courses and biology research projects that impact the environment. "As part of this grant, an additional $21,600 was provided to train undergraduate students in research methods over the 2013 summer months," Abebe said. "Because soil microbial and small animal communities challenged by long term fuel contamination are little explored, our work will contribute to a better understanding of basic community level changes." Abebe explained that fuel is beneath the soil and lies on the water table. It also impacts plant life and organisms living in the soil. Abebe said other institutions are involved in other facets of research related to the fuel near this old fuel depot. This research project is an on-going remediation study being conducted by ECSU and the Coast Guard. He is grateful for the segment of research his students can work on. He will also use the research as a field experiment site for students in fall microbiology classes to better understand changes underway at the surface of a nearby waterfront. Abebe wants students to remember biology is more than a required course for many students majoring in the sciences. It is an exploration of our community-a community affected by natural developments and as well as the result of man-made activities such as old fuel sites.