Discipline: Ecology, Environmental & Earth Sciences
Subcategory: STEM Research
Rita Teutonico - Florida International University
Co-Author(s): Todd Crowl, Piero Gardinali, and Scott Graham, Florida International University
The NSF CREST Center of Excellence for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment (CREST CAChE) at Florida International University (FIU) tackles one of the nation’s most complex challenges: environmental contamination. The Center’s research mission is to address the sources, transport, transformation and ecosystem responses to contaminants, pollutants and other natural stressors, under changing land-use and environmental conditions. CREST CAChE integrates faculty and students from over 10 departments and 4 colleges – including Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Public Health, Engineering and Architecture – to provide students with valuable experience in interdisciplinary research and professional skills for multiple STEM career pathways. Our campus-wide, collaborative research approach has led to exciting cross-disciplinary collaborations. In particular, CREST CAChE students are developing innovative solutions to environmental contamination by designing low-cost sensor components that can be assembled and programmed through robotics and digital fabrication. A primary goal of this work is to develop affordable sensor technology with custom-designed housings that can suit a range of environmental conditions and locations. These components augment the CREST CAChE capabilities provided by 3 state-of-the-art research buoys, specially-designed to be deployed in both shallow freshwater ecosystems and near-shore marine environments. Each buoy features an array of high-tech sensors that measure water quality and flow, with data collected at up to 5-minute intervals and automatically transmitted via cellular uplink every 15 minutes – making the data available to researchers and the general public (view data). With this and other data synthesized through the CREST CAChE database, our research teams can assess the effects of contaminants on South Florida’s aquatic ecosystems and provide the science needed to inform stakeholders’ decisions. In addition to the research components, CREST CAChE Discovery courses were developed to expose early career undergraduate students to STEM concepts and pique their interest in related research and future careers. These courses have grown in popularity over the past two years: Discovery 1, which provides first-hand experience to students interested in research, has been completed by 52 students over 3 semesters; and 28 students have taken part in 2 semesters of Discovery 2, which prepares students for graduate school and STEM careers.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): National Science Foundation
Faculty Advisor: None Listed,