University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

Grad student wins prestigious EPA fellowship

Grad student wins prestigious EPA fellowship

Camille Jones, a second-year master's student in plant and soil sciences, has been awarded a prestigious STAR Graduate Fellowship from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The STAR (Science to Achieve Results) fellowship program is the only federally funded, nationally competitive graduate fellowship focusing specifically on environmental research. It is designed to support excellent research that advances protection of human health and the environment and to encourage promising and committed students to obtain advanced degrees and pursue careers that will serve the future needs of the country as environmental professionals in academia and business.

As a STAR fellow, Jones will receive $74,000 in support over two years which includes a stipend, tuition, and an annual expense account that can be used to pay for travel, books, and equipment necessary for her research.

Jones' research focuses on the toxic element arsenic and the chemical and biological processes that control how arsenic moves through the soil and eventually into food and drinking water, posing a threat to human health.

“I'm looking especially at the transformation of a mobile form of arsenic called arsenite to the less-mobile form, arsenate,” Jones said. “In the soil, this can happen with the help of common soil bacteria and soil minerals. But we don't really know how the chemical and biological processes interact to ultimately control arsenic mobility and bioavailability in soils.”

In the lab, she plans to simplify the soil system by examining single minerals and types of bacteria and hopes the results will provide insight into what is happening in actual soil samples, taken from the UD farm.

According to Jones, who received her bachelor's degree in geology from Bryn Mawr College, arsenic in the soil is a human health problem in many locations around the world. Bangladesh is one area where the problem is particularly acute.

“Delaware does have some arsenic in the soil as well,” Jones said. “One source is poultry manure. Chickens are fed antimicrobial chemicals containing arsenic, and it ends up in manure that is then used as fertilizer. Some pesticides that were used in the past also contained arsenic, which is left behind in the soil. But if we can understand how to transform arsenic in the soil to a form that won't be leached into water or taken up by plants, then presumably we can make those contaminated soils less toxic.”

“Camille is an outstanding student who is most deserving of a prestigious EPA STAR fellowship,” said her graduate adviser, Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry at UD. “Her research is not only important but quite novel. I am confident that Camille will have a highly successful career.”

Article by Beth Chajes