Iowa Water Center Announces 2019 Grant Recipients

06.11.2019 - AMES, IOWA - The Iowa Water Center (IWC) is pleased to announce the four graduate students from across Iowa that have been selected as winners of the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.
The purpose of this funding is to enable graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.
Each selected will be provided funds for his or her submitted research proposal. They include:

  • Ellen Albright, Iowa State UniversityDeveloping Methods to Measure Internal Phosphorus Loading in Iowa Lakes
  • Hui Zhi, University of IowaQuantifying Differential Sorption and Biodegradation of Pharmaceuticals in a Wastewater Effluent-dominated Stream in Iowa
  • Nate Lawrence, Iowa State UniversityDenitrification in Agricultural Depressions by Nitrate Isotope Analysis
  • Tania Leung, Iowa State UniversityDetermining the Effects of Co-Nutrient Availability on Harmful Algal Blooms Across Varying Lake Types

Associate Director of the IWC Melissa Miller says, “This is the third year we’ve conducted a research competition specifically for graduate students, and we were extremely pleased with the pool of applicants this year. The quality of proposals and breadth of focus areas made it difficult to select the awardees. This speaks volumes for the future of water science in our state.”
Developing Methods to Measure Internal Phosphorus Loading in Iowa Lakes
Ellen Albright grew up in a small town just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, called Cottage Grove. Her main area of research is limnology, or the study of inland waters such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands.
Albright’s proposed research focuses on internal phosphorus loading in shallow lakes, as well as management strategies to prevent and help mitigate harmful algal blooms.
“I’m interested in internal phosphorus loading, which is the release of phosphorus from lakebed sediments into the overlying water,” Albright says. Phosphorus is a limiting nutrient that can cause harmful algal blooms in lakes. Phosphorus stored at the bottom of lakes in sediment can be re-released into the water due to wind disturbance or fish stirring up the sediment.
Albright says, “This can maintain high nutrient levels in our lakes. And it’s not very well understood in the shallow lakes we have here in Iowa. Internal phosphorus loading can also impact how effective watershed nutrient reduction strategies are at achieving water quality goals.”
Read Albright's full story here.
Quantifying Differential Sorption and Biodegradation of Pharmaceuticals in a Wastewater Effluent-dominated Stream in Iowa
Hui Zhi received her master’s at Cornell and is now an environmental engineering PhD candidate at the University of Iowa, where her anticipated completion year is 2020.
Zhi’s proposed research encompasses the sorption and biodegradation of pharmaceuticals in Iowa’s water. With the results of this research, Zhi hopes people will better understand the pharmaceutical mixtures in the water, how they change over time, and their ecological impact.
“Hopefully, the results will be able to help the right people, whoever is responsible for our water policy regulations, set in place science-based water quality regulations for pharmaceuticals,” Zhi says.
“And regulations not just for our drinking water, but also in the discharge wastewater that is treated with water. Hopefully then, we will have a cleaner water environment.”
Read Zhi's full story here.
Denitrification in Agricultural Depressions by Nitrate Isotope Analysis
Nate Lawrence is originally from a town in central Illinois called Monticello. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois, where his interest in research began. He is now a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at Iowa State University.
“The question that this grant targets is ‘to what extent are low-lying areas in fields, which are common across the Midwest, functioning as intermittent wetlands which remove nitrate pollution and how much of the nitrate removed is reduced to nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas,’” Lawrence says.
This grant will allow Lawrence to quantify how much denitrification has removed nitrate before it flows to tile lines and ultimately surface waters. Lawrence’s theory is that low-lying wet areas in agriculture fields may be removing nitrate before it ends up in the stream, acting as small wetlands imbedded in agriculture fields.
Lawrence is looking forward to connecting water pollution and greenhouse gases, his two areas of study. He says, “This research combines the two areas of research that I work in and might clarify processes behind both.”
Read Lawrence's full story here.
Determining the Effects of Co-Nutrient Availability on Harmful Algal Blooms Across Varying Lake Types
Tania Leung is from a small town in southern Florida about 5 or 6 hours north of Key West called Lauderhill. Leung earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Florida Atlantic University.
During her master’s, Leung discovered her passion for water quality and decided to pursue this interest with a PhD in geology and environmental sciences at Iowa State University.
Leung’s proposed research encompasses harmful algal blooms and cyanobacteria in Iowa’s waters. “I’m most looking forward to the results of this research,” Leung says. “For example, do iron concentrations vary from lake to lake? And if so, why? Is it geologically impacted or not? And if these iron concentrations do vary from lake to lake, then the next question: Do these harmful algal blooms also vary in terms of how intense they are? And if they are very intense, do the toxins vary?”
Coming from Florida, Leung was familiar with widespread harmful algal blooms along the coast. However, she hadn’t heard of harmful algal blooms being inland until she came to Iowa State University. Leung says this inland perspective in Iowa has given her, “new insight.”
Read Leung's full story here.
The Economic Benefits of Mitigating Harmful Algal Blooms in Iowa
In addition to these four grant recipients, the IWC will also be funding Wendong Zhang at Iowa State University for the second year of his project titled, “The Economic Benefits of Mitigating Harmful Algal Blooms in Iowa.” This funding comes from the IWC’s research seed grant.
Zhang’s project will seek to understand how people make tradeoffs between several aspects of water quality as well as provide decision-makers with scientific and quantitative data to inform the direction of conservation programs in Iowa.
The Iowa Water Center is a federally funded organization, part of the National Institutes for Water Resources. Located on the Iowa State University campus, it is one of 54 institutes located throughout the United States and U.S territories. The purpose of the Iowa Water Center is to identify water-related research needs, provide outreach and education opportunities, and disseminate information about Iowa’s water resources to the public to form better policies and everyday practices. Learn more at
For more information about each of this year’s grant recipients, please visit

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