Murray State University’s Hancock Biological Station has received a $3.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will study toxic algae blooms using environmental sensors and cyberinfrastructure. Murray State faculty through the Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology who are part of the grant include lead principal investigator Dr. David White, professor of biology and director of the Biological Station, and Dr. Susan Hendricks, a senior research scientist with the Biological Station.
The four-year grant is titled “Sensing and Educating the Nexus to Sustain Ecosystems (SENSE): A Kentucky-West Virginia Partnership.” The grant will address the urgent need of both states to develop scientific resources to improve water quality along with science that can guide decision makers. The grant also focuses on the need for water quality sensors that can pinpoint problems as they occur. Data streams then can be merged with systems-based models to help researchers understand the conflicts of phosphorus loading from farmlands with warm surface waters from energy production and climate change that lead to toxic algae blooms.
An educational component of the grant will include the mentoring of early career faculty who recently have been hired in the states of Kentucky or West Virginia, along with a mentoring aspect that includes graduate and undergraduate students from the region with a designed research program to promote independent thinking and scaffolding towards careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) areas.
“Our overall goal is to create a larger collaborative team of scientists that can address this and other environmental questions that are common to the region, while at the same time creating an educational framework that attracts top students into our STEM educational programs,” said White.
“These awards represent a tremendous value for the scientific community, as they foster research into some of the most pressing issues facing U.S. society while simultaneously supporting collaborative research programs and workforce development,” said Denise Barnes, head of the NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. “Whether by expanding our knowledge of the brain, or by improving how our water, food and energy systems work efficiently together, these projects hold the promise of transforming our daily lives.”
The Hancock Biological Station is a year-round facility on Kentucky Lake, providing scientists with a base of operation for a wide variety of field research. The station presents students with opportunities for field-oriented classes, individualized instruction, independent research and close interactions with researchers and faculty. The station, located approximately 16 miles from Murray, is celebrating its 50th year of operation.
Other faculty associated with the grant include Dr. Jimmy Fox of the University of Kentucky and Dr. Bill Ford and Dr. Jeff Kovatch of Marshall University.