Biology graduate Melissa Haber ’12 has received a Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pursue a master’s degree in soil science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The award provides a two-year stipend of up to $25,000 per year, tuition and fees up to $12,000 per year, and an annual expense allowance of $5,000 for supplies and travel. The award also enables Haber to attend a conference for EPA fellows in Washington, D.C.
In the soil chemistry lab at the University of Wisconsin, Haber has begun a project with two primary goals. First, she plans to use micriobiologically induced precipitated minerals, such as calcite and apatite, to isolate heavy metals like strontium-90 and lead from contaminated aquifer systems. She also plans to study the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio necessary to enhance or inhibit other bacterial groups found in the environment that might stand in the way of the microbial precipitation process.
Her master’s studies provide a perfect marriage for Haber’s interests in ecology and microbiology. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in soil science once her master’s is complete and then work in environmental research.
“Understanding water chemistry, mineral formation, and microbial ecology will give me the breadth of skills necessary for research in the environmental industry,” she explains. “The ability to combine my interests within a project that has beneficial applications is very exciting.”
Just a few weeks into her master’s program, Haber already is appreciating how much Lafayette prepared her for advanced study. She says the rigorous coursework and close working relationships with professors mirror the experiences she had as an undergraduate. Additionally, her time on College Hill prepared her to think critically about science, something she has to do every day in the soil chemistry lab.
At Lafayette, Haber began working with Laurie Caslake, associate professor and assistant head of biology, at the beginning of her sophomore year. Through Caslake’s collaborative National Science Foundation grant, Haber worked for a summer with a graduate team at the University of California-Davis on an interdisciplinary soil treatment project. They used a bacterium naturally found in soil that produces calcite to improve a soil remediation technique. Calcite binds soil particles together under the right conditions, a process that potentially could be used to strengthen the soil beneath structures where natural disasters occur frequently.
The research led to a senior thesis, for which Haber studied how bacterial biofilms reduce the permeability of sandy soils, which could prevent leachate from escaping landfills and contaminating the surrounding environment. Haber previously received a Greater Research Opportunity (GRO) fellowship from the EPA, which included a three-month summer internship with the agency.
For information on applying for scholarships and fellowships, contact Julia A. Goldberg, associate dean of the College, (610) 330-5521.