The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded FIU’s Institute of Environment a five-year $5 million Phase II grant to support the CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment in its mission to detect contamination, study its impact and ensure student success in STEM fields.
The center focuses on detecting and researching the impacts of toxic substances including microplastics, pesticides, industrial chemicals, oil, pharmaceuticals, nutrients and metals in the water. Just this past year, its researchers were among the first to respond to a massive fish kill that struck Biscayne Bay, collecting and analyzing water samples to help determine the cause of the devastation. The center also has deployed buoys that collect data on the bay, providing an early warning on conditions that could lead to another fish kill.
“NSF has made a big investment in FIU,” said Todd Crowl, director of FIU’s Institute of Environment and principal investigator of the CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment. “With the launch of our second phase, we are significantly expanding our scope and providing even more opportunities for students to conduct the environmental research needed to maintain healthy ecosystems that future generations will enjoy.”
In its next phase, researchers plan to create and deploy autonomous vessels that can explore difficult-to-reach urban environments and that will one day communicate with one another to pinpoint contamination sources. To better determine the extent of the effects caused by pollution, researchers will include participants from across FIU’s architecture, biology, chemistry, computer science, earth systems, public health and engineering programs.
The center funds graduate fellowships and prepares students to join the future STEM workforce. Phase II will provide opportunities for students to earn micro-credentials in next-generation skills needed to understand complex environmental problems, including robotics, innovative sensor development, big-data analytics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
In its first phase, researchers trained 43 stipend-supported and 35 affiliated graduate students.
Undergraduate students also will have meaningful opportunities to conduct research through a new undergraduate research fellowship in the next phase.
“Offering undergraduate research fellowships addresses a growing demand that students have to make an impact early in their careers,” said Rita Teutonico, co-principal investigator on the CREST Center and the College of Arts, Sciences & Education’s associate dean for research. “They’ll be working on cutting-edge research and gaining skills for the workforce that they can continue to use throughout their education, while also helping FIU make breakthrough discoveries.”
In part because of the research performed at the CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment and FIU’s Institute of Environment, the university is ranked No. 11 in the world for positive impact on life below water by The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.