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Archived Student Profiles:
NHSGC Supported Fellows and Interns

Meet 2014 NHSGC Fellow Natalie Kashi

MEET Natalie Kashi, a first-year PhD student in UNH's Natural Resources and the Environment program, working in Dr. Ruth Varner's Biogeochemistry and Wetland Ecosystems lab. 

Her research:  Nitrogen and Phosphorus Controls on Methane (CH4) Production Across a Permafrost Thaw Gradient

Climate change-induced permafrost thaw is a major global concern that could potentially cause CH4 sinks in wetlands to transform into sources of CH4. Methane emissions are highly variable and dependent on multiple controls. As nutrient cycling is expected to increase with permafrost thaw, scientists anticipate a plant community change that will affect CH4 fluxes and carbon sequestration. 

For her project, Natalie will augment existing datasets at established wetland sites along a permafrost thaw gradient, and will study methane emissions in response to site conditions and to the availability of two key nutrients — nitrogen and phosphorus.

This will all lead to a tool that can be used for predicting CH4 production and for understanding emission controls unique to each wetland type. That information will help us predict impacts of future wetland permafrost thaw. 

With a fascination for studying ecosystems and climate change, and a good grasp of biogeochemistry, Natalie plans to develop her skills as an earth systems scientist. She hopes to continue her ecological research while communicating this science through teaching and mentorship. 

Meet 2014 NHSGC Fellow Devon O'Rourke

MEET Devon O'Rourke, first-year UNH graduate student in Microbiology , working in Dr. Vaughn Cooper's lab.


His research: Adaptation, mutation supply, and evolution of synergy in biofilm communities

While pursuing a Ph.D. in Molecular and Evolutionary Systems Biology, Devon will study the evolution of microbial communities and associated biofilms. Studying the complex interactions that take place in an evolving system of biochemical, genetic, and environmental factors is key to understanding and predicting fundamental properties of life's origins, limits, and future. "Dr. Cooper's experimental approach is particularly broad and unique," notes Devon. "I am fortunate to be part of a team looking at the myriad of interactions at ecological, molecular, and genomic levels. This is a tremendous opportunity to gain experience in many experimental techniques, hopefully yielding fresh insight into the mechanisms governing life's origins."

In Dr. Cooper's words, "This area of our research program falls squarely within the objectives of the latest NASA Astrobiology Roadmap— using experimental evolution to understand the origins of life. Our key innovation is our ability to study evolution of communities growing on biofilms, which were likely key to the origins of complexity."

As a former high-school science teacher, Devon will be developing an outreach component for Dr. Cooper's "evolution in action" program — an inquiry-based curriculum for teaching evolutionary biology to high-school students. With this in mind, Devon is preparing for a career that combines research and teaching.

Meet 2014 NHSGC Fellow Joseph Jensen
  joseph jensen

MEET Joseph Jensen, a second year PhD student in Space Physics, working in Dr. Jimmy Raeder's Theoretical Plasma Physics lab.

His research: Large Localized Poynting Fluxes in the Earth's Ionosphere During Periods of Geomagnetic Calm.

In Physics, the Poynting flux gives us an idea of how electromagnetic energy is flowing into or out of a system. In this study, the electromagnetic area of interest is the Earth's Ionosphere and Thermosphere. The research looks at cases when perturbances from the sun and Earth's magnetosphere dump large localized amounts of energy into our ionosphere, occurring at a times when traditional forecasting methods indicate that it shouldn't be happening. Using computer models to simulate these events, he will look at the processes that cause these poorly understood Poynting flux events.

Why do we care? The fundamental processes behind all of this have a direct impact on space weather. Dr. Raeder explains that "studying thermospheric upwellings is a part of basic science, but is presently motivated by the need to predict the paths of low Earth-orbiting satellites and space debris. While the upwelling during geomagnetic storms can be modeled using geomagnetic indices derived from ground measurements, about 30% of the variance remains unexplained. Recent studies find evidence that large Poynting flux generated under such conditions may not captured by the indices. Joseph will use simulations of the magnetosphere-ionosphere-thermosphere system to find conditions and processes that cause the flux. The computer power to do this has only recently become available. This could improve forecast models, and Joseph is expected to play a significant part of it."

Joseph hopes to someday work as a researcher at a space science agency, eventually teaching in this field.

Meet 2014 NHSGC Fellow Christopher Lyon

MEET Chris Lyon, a fourth-year UNH graduate student in Chemistry, working in Dr. Erik Berda's Polymer Science Chemistry lab.

His research: Facile Preparation of Adaptive Nanostructures

  chris lyon

Dr. Berda's lab focuses on synthesizing well-defined nanostructures, emphasizing complex architectures that adapt based on external stimuli, similar to biological systems. They specialize in single-chain nanoparticles (SCNPs) — organic nanoparticles developed from the intramolecular reaction of single polymer chains in highly dilute solution. 

While in its infancy, this work represents an important step toward developing advanced nanostructures capable of mimicking nature's abilities in catalysis and sensing. That technology is relevant to medicine and targeted drug delivery. 

For his research project, Chris will be synthesizing a library of functionalized monomers using reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization. These polymers, when exposed to a predetermined set of conditions, will reversibly or irreversibly form SCNPs, useful for more complex adaptive nanostructures. 

While it has broad implications for biomedicine, the research also aligns with NASA's Strategic Plan: Advancing our understanding of these nanostrucutres would allow for their implementation into innovative space technologies.

As for his future, he hopes to pursue research in the field of polymer chemistry, perhaps teaching in this particular discipline, with the hope of increasing public awareness with regard to science and the environment.

Dr. Berda describes Chris as "a rising star in the field of polymer science; this is a great starting point for a career that will no doubt be punctuated with important scientific contributions."

Meet 2014 NHSGC Scholar
Amanda Madden

MEET Amanda Madden, a fourth-year UNH graduate student in Space Physics program, working in Dr. James Ryan's Neutron Imaging Lab.

Her research: Advanced Statistical Methods Applied to Imaging Neutron Spectrometers

Much of Amanda's graduate career has been focused on a Neutron Imaging Spectrometer (NSPECT) being developed at UNH, originally funded as a Defense Threat Reduction Agency project. In the summer of 2013, Amanda (along with a newer graduate student) was given the huge responsibility of transporting, setting up, and calibrating the Neutron Imaging lab's latest imager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Building that experience, Amanda is currently attempting to gain maximum information from the data collected by that instrument. She is applying advanced statistical techniques to the multi-dimensional NSPECT data. With the potential of transitioning the instrument from a simple detection device into a powerful forensic tool, this work could have application to the design and construction of similar NASA instruments. It could also be used for analyzing archival data from instruments like the COMPTEL gamma ray telescope.

Putting this in perspective, Dr. Ryan explains that "the classic set of instruments currently in use for detecting the presence of radioactive and nuclear material is simple and rudimentary, and consequently not very sensitive. A new generation of instruments is in development, with the aim of achieving greater sensitivity. However, there is a qualitative difference between a sensitive instrument designed to detect the presence of radioactive materials and an instrument that can be used as a forensic tool. The forensic tool must provide maximum data and no false positives. The tools that Amanda is developing can identify and suppress ghost images and ambiguous signatures, report accurate locations and spectra, and quantify the confidence that one can have in with the results, given the sometimes limited available data. Such analysis tools do not exist in this community."

As for her future, Amanda is anticipating a 2015 graduation. After that, she has her sights set on a postdoctoral position, research a NASA center, or perhaps a national laboratory. As for the future of her project, she hopes to see it applied to problems like homeland security, industrial and safety tasks, battlefield surveillance, and more sophisticated instruments.

Meet 2014 NHSGC ScholarSarah Al-Momar

Sarah Al-Momar

MEET SARAH AL-Momar, meteorology graduate student at Plymouth State University. Her meteorology focus is on ln-Cloud Convective Turbulence and how it might relate to lightning and storm microphysics.

Sarah Al-Momar

In explaining the relevance, Sarah points out that "a study of NTSB data shows that ~70% of commercial aviation weather-related accidents stem from turbulence, and a large fraction of turbulence-related accidents are caused by Convectively-Induced Turbulence (CIT)."

We know that: CIT is dependent on in-cloud dynamics such as strong updraft, which brings a robust mixed phase region leading to electrification; that high lightning frequencies relate to high turbulence intensity; and that storms show lightning peaking in a mixed phase, with CIT peaking just above this during the mature stage.

As a UCAR SOARS Protégé, Sarah will spend this summer at the Natl. Ctr. for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Co., continuing her CIT research, but with a new twist—at NCAR, Sarah will have access to dual doppler radar data, in which the same storm is viewed with two sets of radar, in 3-D. That 3-D view provides a clearer view of the wind field within the storm.

Upon return to Plymouth in fall, Sarah will complete her M.S. thesis using dual doppler analyses to look for a relationship between turbulence and lighting, particularly a temporal one. Does one event occur before the other or do they occur at the same time?

This topic will have added interest as we look forward to a Geostationary Lightning Mapper on the upcoming GOES-R satellite, to launch in Oct. 2015. This will enable us to view lighting on a global scale, potentially determining if lightning could indicate areas of expected turbulence.

With her M.S. in Applied Meteorology (12/2014), she hopes to work in a transportation field such as aviation meteorology, doing both forecasting and research.

Meet 2013 NHSGC Fellow Ryan Cassotto

Ryan Cassotto

Ryan Cassotto is a UNH Ph.D. student in Earth Systems Science. He is using ground-based interferometric radar to study the boundary between a tidewater outlet glacier and the ocean in Greenland.

He is studying daily changes in the ice-ocean boundary and how that influences the dynamics of ice and the seasonal flow of the glacier. 

Preliminary results show tidal modulation at the terminus of the glacier.  The ground-based radar has a sampling rate of just a few minutes.  This data can be integrated with satellite observations made several days apart to give a comprehensive picture of glacial dynamics over several time scales. 

This work is relevant to NASA goals including improved understanding of how large ice sheets impact sea level.

Meet 2013 NHSGC Fellow Nicholas Dowhaniuk


Nick Dowhaniuk is a Master's student in Natural Resources.  He is characterizing changes in landcover, land use, landscape pattern, and biomass due to industrial oil development in the Albertine Rift, a biodiversity hotspot in Uganda. 

The two primary questions Nick plans to address are: How has the population grown and where are localized hotspots of population growth since oil development has begun?  What are the landscape impacts from oil development? 

This study is applicable to the NASA Land-Cover/Land-Use Change Program (LCLUC), which seeks to quantify, document, and understand how landcover and land use change by humans affect ecosystems.

Meet 2013 NHSGC Fellow Dara Feddersen

Dara Feddersen

Dara Feddersen is pursuing her Ph.D. in Chemistry at UNH.  Her research focuses on new and improved methods to measure mercury in the atmosphere. 

She has been working with a team to design and test a portable instrument (UNH/UH-Merc) that can obtain measurements of total gaseous mercury and elemental gaseous mercury with one-minute time resolution.  UNH/UH-Merc will be used to conduct ground-based measurements in September 2013 in Houston, as part of the NASA DISCOVER-AQ campaign.

Dara has also been collecting data on gaseous mercury at a local wetland site in Barrington, NH. 

Mercury is bound to organic matter and stored in the peatlands over the winter, then released as land thaws and vegetation grows in the spring.  This process is of particular importance in the Arctic, where melting permafrost is releasing stores of mercury and methane. Understanding the processes that contribute to climate change in Arctic regions is a NASA focus.   

Meet 2013 ECSU Intern Crystal Yelverton

Meet Crystal Yelverton, Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) student and NH Space Grant intern in UNH's Earth Systems Research Center.

Having just completed her ECSU course requirements for a B.S. in Geology, and looking for math and science graduate school opportunities, Crystal was an ideal candidate for a summer internship with Dr. Ruth Varner's study of wetland ecosystem chemistry. Crystal arrived with research experience, having spent the two previous summers as a climate studies intern.

In summer 2011 she was a RESESS intern (Research Experiences in Solid Earth Sciences for Students) in Boulder, Colorado. Her study, Climate Change Affecting Tropical Cyclone Activity, compared 100-year-old data with current data, finding that tropical cyclone activity has been increasing.

In summer 2012 she received a NOAA-based Ernest F. Hollings scholarship for an internship at the Northeast River Forecast Center, a National Weather Service Station in Taunton, Mass. She created an ARC GIS and Google Earth interface for determining high-hazard N.E. dams.

Funded by NH Space Grant Consortium, Crystal's 2013 UNH internship focuses on biogeochemical studies of a wetland ecosystem at a site in Barrington, N.H.—a long-term research site named "Sallies Fen." She is collecting methane and CO2 samples in this temperate peatland, then measuring fluxes and analyzing the data in a Morse Hall laboratory.

As for a future in research, Crystal is definitely interested in climate change, climatology, and possibly meteorology. She loves math and sciences and looks toward the day when she might be an investigator in her own research lab.

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Meet 2012 NHSGC Fellow
Camden Ertley

camden ertley

Camden Ertley is currently a Physics graduate student at the Univ. of New Hampshire, Camden earned his B.S. in Physics from Univ. of Akron.

After finishing an internship at the Argonne National Lab, Univ. of Chicago, he stayed on as a research asst. in the high energy physics dept.

Camden is pictured above with the GRAPE instrument, a NASA project he's been with from development through launch in 2011. His area of focus is ground control software, which included 28 days in Ft. Sumner, NM, awaiting the GRAPE balloon launch and tracking its flight.

He's currently analyzing GRAPE mission data and preparing his thesis. Over the course of the 26 hour flight, several large solar flares occurred, including two M-class flares during solar observation period. That is now part of his Ph.D. thesis.

The NHSGC Fellowship will offer support in this year of graduate study.

As for the experience of working on a NASA mission— Cameron is now hooked on doing research. After graduation, he hopes to continue with some type of research work.

Meet 2013 NHSGC Scholar Ryan Lawrence
  ryan lawrence  

MEET RYAN LAWRENCE, UNH graduate student in the NRESS Ph.D. program.

While an undergrad. at Elizabeth City State University in 2011, Ryan met UNH faculty in a summer Watershed Watch program held at ECSU. Then, in spring 2012, NH Space Grant supported his attendance as a student researcher at the UNH Undergraduate Research Conference.

Ryan returned to UNH in summer 2012 to join the NSF-funded NERU (Northern Ecosystems Research for Undergrads.) program, traveling from UNH to Sweden as a research fellow.

His research in Sweden: "Autochamber Measurements of Methane and Carbon Dioxide fluxes and Isotopologues of CH4 in a Sub-Arctic Mire."

In Fall 2012, Ryan presented this research at a conference of the American Geophysical Union—an international scientific society of 35,000+ members.

Returning to UNH in summer 2013 with funding from NH Space Grant, he did a pre-graduate school research project at a N.H. site with an ecosystem similar to the Swedish mire. That work included problem-solving and physical work on the autochamber equipment. His summary of the summer: "The methods section of a research paper is often a highly condensed version of what really has to be done."

As a graduate student in a UNH Ph.D. program focusing on Natural Resources and the Environment, Ryan is loking toward a career of research and/or teaching in higher-education.

Meet 2012 NHSGC Fellow
Stephanie Coster

Amy Underwood

NHSGC Fellow Stephanie Coster is pursuing a Ph.D. in Natural Resources & Earth Systems Science at the University of NH.

An undergrad degree in biology and a Master's in Wildlife Ecology has brought Stephanie to the field of Molecular Ecology. She uses DNA and genetic markers to answer ecological questions.

Early in her Ph.D. study, she collected DNA samples from two species—the wood frog and the spotted salamander, both prevalent in a central Maine site that her advisor (Kimberly Babbitt) is using for other studies.

She extracted DNA from eggs, located in vernal pools, genotyped the individuals to determine each population's genetic patterns, and then correlated this information to environmental factors. She uses this data to determine the influence of landscape features—roads, forestry, lakes, development, slope and fragmentation—on population connectivity.

With her funding low and data samples collected, the fellowship will help support Stephanie in her 4th and final year of grad studies.

The working title for her dissertation: Landscape Genetics of Pond-Breeding Amphibians in a Managed Forest.

Upon graduation, she hopes to teach and do post-doctoral work in ecology and conservation genetics.

Meet 2012 NHSGC Fellow
Justin Williams

Amy Underwood

NHSGC Fellow Justin Williams is a biological technician with the U.S. Forest Service. He is pursuing a Master's degree in Natural Resources at the University of NH.

Justin's undergraduate degree, also from UNH, is in Environmental Science with a focus on Ecosystems and a minor in Forestry.

His interest in remote sensing of forest ecosystems and forest health led him to this master's program, with Dr. Barry Rock as his advisor.

Justin is studying stress indicators following hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) infestation on eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Analyzing samples with a lab spectrometer, he can measure stress indicators such as low moisture and chlorophyll content, nutrient depletion, and changes in cellular strucure.

With those indicators of healthy vs. infested hemlocks, along with the NDVI biomass index, he hopes to use Landsat satellite data to determine geographic areas affected by the woolly adelgid. At present, his focus is on N.H. and coastal Maine.

With the possiblity of Landsat 8 being launched in late winter and data being available by next summer, Justin might extend his graduate study to include that data. The fellowship from NH Space Grant is helpful in supporting his research, particluarly if the timeframe extends to make use of Landsat 8 data.

To follow progress over the next year, check out Justin's project Twitter account at HWA_DurhamNH.