Center for Critical Zone Research welcomes first four graduate student fellows
Dalton Abdala
Bryan Bzdek
Amy Gartman
Terry Meade
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1:19 p.m., Nov. 24, 2008----The University of Delaware's Center for Critical Zone Research (CCZR), an interdisciplinary environmental center, has welcomed its first four graduate student fellows this year --Dalton Abdala, Bryan Bzdek, Amy Gartman and Terry Meade.

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Funding from the Unidel Foundation enabled the CCZR to provide the fellowships.

Members of the CCZR Leadership Team evaluated applicants from the U.S. and abroad, and several were invited to campus for a “Get to Know Us” weekend event. The four CCZR fellows that were selected have the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary research in environmental sciences and engineering with distinguished faculty.

Each fellowship provides an annual stipend of $22,000 for up to three years and an additional $3,000 per year for travel to scientific meetings and for other professional development enrichment activities.

CCZR fellows have access to first-rate laboratory and field facilities, as well as state-of-the-art core facilities in microscopy, spectroscopy, and biotechnology.

The students may also conduct research at national laboratories, state agencies, in industry and at environmental research centers and institutes.

Dalton Abdala, who received bachelor's and master's degrees from the Federal University of Vicosa in Brazil, became familiar with the CCZR after reading a paper on phosphorus kinetics co-authored by Donald L. Sparks, the University of Delaware's S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Plant and Soil Sciences and director of the center, who was also author of one of Abdala's textbooks, Environmental Soil Chemistry.

“I realized he was the director of the CCZR and was conducting ongoing research on the molecular aspects of soil chemistry,” Abdala said. “As I was becoming more familiar with his research, I decided to switch my research focus from soil management to something that looked at the soil more deeply.”

Abdala contacted Sparks about joining his research group to study environmental molecular geochemistry as a Ph.D. student and was accepted to the CCZR fellows program. “My experience as a CCZR fellow has been very exciting, since our group is involved in so many academic activities, like public presentations, seminars, and conferences” said Abdala. “These things strengthen our scientific knowledge and work as fundamental keys to our professional and academic development.”

Bryan Bzdek earned his bachelor's degree from Bucknell University and applied to graduate school at UD because he was impressed by the research being conducted in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“After visiting the school and meeting the faculty, I was impressed with both the quality of the research done here and the friendliness of the faculty,” said Bzdek, who now works with Murray Johnston, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, studying nanoaerosols. “UD seemed to have a very collaborative atmosphere, which was something I was looking for. They seemed very dedicated to helping their students achieve their full potential.”

Bzdek will study the formation of air particles using mass spectrometry, and his research will involve both lab work and field studies. He is already pleased with the interdisciplinary nature of his CCZR fellowship.

“I've already attended several meetings where groups from different departments have met to present their research,” said Bzdek. “At these meetings, you could see some common themes shared by the research and different ways to approach the research. Professors also discussed ways in which they could collaborate in the future. It was quite exciting.”

“It was also interesting to observe how those who do work in other areas think differently than those in your own area,” Bzdek added. “I believe the program will be a great success.”

Amy Gartman, who received her bachelor's degree in chemistry from New York University, studies chemical oceanography, specifically metals, with George Luther, the Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Oceanography. She came to UD because of the strength of the College of Marine and Earth Studies program.

“The fellowship supports exactly the type of interdisciplinary research that I plan to pursue, and it will give me a degree of freedom pursue that research,” said Gartman. “I hope to become more involved with CCZR in my time here at UD.”

Gartman said she appreciates the fact that her fellowship allows her to focus on research and not worry about finding funding from a teaching fellowship.

“I think that CCZR will succeed in its mission because it is at the front of a broad wave to push more interdisciplinary research in the sciences,” said Gartman. “The importance of multidisciplinary training, especially in the earth and ocean sciences, is now being recognized, since the divisions between disciplines don't really exist outside of the classroom.”

Terry Meade earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kentucky and then worked at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) before joining Sparks' environmental soil chemistry research group as a CCZR fellow.

“During a conversation about the plant and soil sciences department's graduate program, departmental faculty indicated there would soon be fellowship opportunities directly relating to my field of study and encouraged me to apply,” said Meade, who applied to UD's internationally respected environmental soil science graduate program in the fall of 2007 and learned about the CCZR fellowship. “I was really sold on the cross-disciplinary approach the center is using to see the 'big picture' and understand and address environmental issues.”

“I see CCZR's interdisciplinary approach as a very positive step in the right direction,” said Meade. “My experience tells me that many of the leading environmental programs across the U.S. are implementing the same approach and are attempting to use different areas of expertise on their campuses to complete the very complex environmental cause-and-effect puzzle.”

For more information on the Center for Critical Zone Research, visit [].

Article by Katie Ginder-Vogel
Photos by Danielle Quigley, Lisa Tossey and Richard Bzdek