The National Science Foundation has awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship to INES Ph.D. student Molly Welsh to support her research in promoting nitrogen removal in agricultural stream ecosystems and identifying microbial controls on nutrient cycling.
As a student in UNC Charlotte’s Infrastructure and Environmental Systems (INES) program, Welsh is currently working with the research group of Dr. Sara McMillan of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Welsh is the seventeenth UNC Charlotte student and the first INES student to receive the award. The three-year fellowship provides $44,000 a year for tuition and a stipend.
In her research, Welsh is looking into how agricultural activities lead to impaired water quality, as fertilizer is often applied in excess of crop demand and excess nitrate from fertilizer is transported to streams via runoff during storm events. When contaminated surface water reaches nitrogen-limited aquatic areas, nitrate causes algal blooms and depletion of oxygen in the water. Welsh’s research is investigating areas responsible for denitrification, the conversion of biologically-available nitrate to nitrogen gases, in stream ecosystems so impaired systems can be engineered to optimize pollutant removal.
“Our research evaluates the effectiveness of current stream restoration approaches in promoting denitrification,” Welsh said. “We also aim to identify specific areas in the stream ecosystem responsible for denitrification and quantify environmental drivers of denitrification to guide future stream restoration design. Our future research will focus on identifying microbial controls on the coupled retention and release of multiple elements of concern.”
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines at accredited U.S. institutions. The fellowships help ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforce its diversity.