ENST Students Win Poster Contests at SSSA Meeting

From Left: Christina Langlois, Glade Dlott, and Kristin Fisher

November 25, 2013

Three Soil and Watershed Sciences graduate students from the Department of Environmental Science and Technology (ENST) didn’t come home empty-handed from the 2013 Soil Science Annual Meeting (SSSA) that took place earlier this month in Tampa, Florida. Instead, they returned with three awards from the international poster competitions.

The theme for this year’s meeting was “Water, Food, Energy & Innovation for a Sustainable World”. It brought together more than 4,000 scientists, professionals, educators, and students from three scientific societies: The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science of America (CSSA), and SSSA. At the meeting, ENST was represented by Dr. Stephanie Yarwood, Dr. Bruce James, Dr. Robert Hill, Dr. Martin Rabenhorst, Dr. Brian Needleman, Dr. Ray Weil, Dr. Joshua McGrath, Dr. Frank Coale, and a dozen ENST graduate students.

The poster designed by Soil and Watershed Sciences graduate student, Glade Dlott, was selected as the winner out of 19 entries in the Soil Biology and Biochemistry division poster competition for which he received a $300 prize. In the poster, Glade discussed “Investigation of Bacterial and Archaeal Oligotrophy in an Incubated Oxisol and Mollisol.” His research is focused on understanding if soil bacteria use different survival strategies. “In ecology there is often a division made between organisms that grow very quickly in response to new nutrients but then die quickly after the event (r-strategy) and those organisms like humans that have a steady growth rate regardless of their resources (K-stategy). Glade was testing a method to use DNA and RNA to predict which organisms use which strategy,” explains Glade’s advisor Dr. Stephanie Yarwood.

Glade believes that the primary reason he won this competition was due to the excellent preparation and guidance of his co-authors Dr. Jeffrey Buyer, Dr. Jude Maul, and his advisor Dr. Yarwood. “This project was their brainchild, and I am very lucky that I was chosen to develop and present it," explained Glade. "My design and presentation were an important part, but in the end, it was the value and timeliness of the research itself that carried the day." In addition, Glade plans to invest the prize into "green" projects in developing countries through microfinance website Kiva.org.

Kristin Fisher, Another Soil and Watershed Sciences graduate student, won the Soil Chemistry division poster contest out of 12 entries, and received a $200 honorarium. Kristin, presented her dissertation research poster titled “Urea Hydrolysis in Soils Along a Toposequence: Influences of Chemical Conditions.” In the poster, she showed how varying soil chemistry and environmental conditions across the landscape may lead to runoff of urea to surface water. Her findings were generated from two different sites- Wye Island on the Coastal Plain and Clarksville on the Piedmont in Maryland.

Kristin considers the trip to the SSSA meeting- “a great experience.” “As I put together my poster, I stepped back from my day-to-day lab work to see the ‘big picture’ of what my work has accomplished,” said Kristin. She believes that the simplicity of her poster in addition to reviews from her Soil Chemistry Lab members and advisor Dr. Bruce James, helped her to win this competition.

Another winner in the same Soil Chemistry division poster competition was ENST graduate student, Christina Langlois, who was awarded third place and received $100 for her “Chromium Chemistry at Soil Oxidation-Reduction Interfaces Defined by Iron and Manganese Oxides” poster. In the poster, Christina presented her thesis research on how oxidation and reduction of Chromium, one of the most common soil pollutants, change in interfaces between mineralogically different soil horizons. 

The SSSA meeting was the first opportunity for Christina to present her poster at a national meeting. “Receiving an award is an affirmation that my research is high enough quality to attract attention and interesting to other scientists in the field,” said Christina. She believes that the department and especially her advisor, Dr. Bruce James, have prepared her very well for the conference. “The feedback from Dr. James and fellow graduate students helped refine my poster to be aesthetically pleasing, logical, and focused on my research,” explained Christina. According to her, while a large part of any good poster is its design, the presentation is equally important. “Being able to explain your research in 2-3 minutes to someone who is not familiar with your specialty is very important. I think the ability to read your audience and tailor your explanation to their knowledge level can go a long way,” concluded Christina.