St. Olaf College | News

Two students win prestigious EPA fellowship

LuttermanWill300x375St. Olaf College students Will Lutterman ’15 and Serina Robinson ‘15 each received a prestigious two-year research fellowship from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The fellowship is part of the EPA’s Greater Research Opportunities for Undergraduates program.

Lutterman’s research will look at the water policy on the Cannon River in southeast Minnesota. He wants to examine how the current policy is working and how it can be changed to become more efficient.

“A lot of Minnesota waterways are highly polluted by nonpoint source pollution, or farm runoff, so we want to look at what’s there right now, what techniques we can employ to get rid of that pollution, and how we’re going to get there,” Lutterman says.

He also plans to look at how community development and economic development interact, especially in the case of the health of the community and the health of the environment.

“Pollution is intricately linked with economic development, and many people think that more pollution means more development. I’m skeptical about this view on development and want to examine this topic deeper and more holistically,” Lutterman explains.

RobinsonSerina300x350Robinson plans to examine methods of reusing valuable nutrients found in agricultural runoff such as phosphorus, which is a key nutrient farmers use for growing plants and crops. This process is called bioremediation. Her proposal is a continuation of the work she’s done as a Beckman Scholar.

“Algae and other microscopic organisms have the unique ability to extract nutrients from aquatic systems, and this sparked the idea of using biological systems to recycle phosphates and convert it into a usable form for crops,” she explains.

Robinson says it’s important to find a more efficient method of extracting these nutrients since much of them wash away into larger bodies of water.

“Bioremediation using organisms like microalgae is a new and exciting area of research to explore — and one that will eventually have economic implications in reducing U.S. dependence on phosphate rock imports from Morocco,” she says.

Winners of this fellowship are required to work on an internship next summer under the EPA and will receive funding to travel to a conference.

Both Lutterman and Robinson have been involved in many sustainability movements at St. Olaf, including the Take Back the Tap campaign, a movement aimed at reducing bottled water on campus; Environmental Coalition, which organizes environmentally focused campaigns such as Take Back the Tap; the SustainAbilities program, a student-run initiative that invites St. Olaf students to learn and practice environmentally friendly living; and the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, which works to engage Northfield residents in protecting and improving the water quality of the Cannon River.

This summer Lutterman was part of a team working under the Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry program to evaluate the SustainAbilities program’s launch. The team also worked on the programming of the Green Dorm project that involves setting Hilleboe as an environmentally conscious dorm.

Robinson traveled to a permafrost degradation site in the Alaskan tundra this summer, where she conducted research with a team of students as part of the Beckman Scholars program. The team, which also included Ellen Squires ‘14 and Karin Sather ‘15, examined nutrients spiraling down an arctic hillslope.

She also worked with Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg Muth and students Paige Owens-Kurtz ‘14 and David Loe ‘14 on an examination of how algae grow under different conditions. At the same time, she also independently analyzed the samples she gathered during her time in Alaska to look at how much phosphorus is already there.