DENIN holds first research symposium
John Byrne addresses the inaugural DENIN research symposium.
Holly Michael was among the presenters at the DENIN research symposium.
Donald L. Sparks, DENIN director, opens the symposium.


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8:50 a.m., April 13, 2010----Some 70 affiliates of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) turned out for the institute's inaugural research symposium on April 9 at the University of Delaware's John M. Clayton Hall.

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“We decided to keep our first symposium internal so that we could learn about the wide range of environmental research going on at UD and some of our partner institutions,” said DENIN Director Donald L. Sparks in his welcoming remarks.

Sparks reiterated DENIN's mission: to provide solutions to pressing environmental needs and produce strategies to address emerging environmental challenges by conducting research and promoting and coordinating knowledge partnerships that integrate environmental science, engineering and policy.

“I think this blend of science and engineering with policy is what makes us unique,” he said. “It's critical that we consider social dynamics as we work to solve these problems and develop these strategies.”

DENIN already has affiliates from UD, Delaware State University (DSU), Wesley College, and the Stroud Water Research Center in nearby Avondale, Pa. “We want this to be not just a University-wide but a state-wide organization,” said Sparks. “We are also getting valuable input and advice from the members of our external advisory board on how we can make DENIN a truly world-class institute.”

Sparks reported some recent successes, including a $4.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a Critical Zone Observatory for researching questions relating to climate change. A collaborative effort with Stroud, the observatory is one of just six throughout the U.S.

“We've also initiated a search for the Howard Cosgrove Chair in the Environment,” Sparks said. “We're looking to recruit an internationally recognized person for this position. Overall, I think we're off to a very good start, and we're excited about all of the opportunities we have.”

Following the welcome by Sparks, Mark Barteau, senior vice provost for research and strategic initiatives at UD, reflected on the University's strategic planning process, which resulted in six milestones associated with the Path to Prominence.

“One of them was the Initiative for the Planet,” Barteau said. “It seemed very ambitious, but from Day 1, we had the idea that UD would be a leader not just in environmental research and education but also in 'walking the walk' with environmental initiatives.

“Now we're putting bricks and mortar and money behind it with our plans for the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building, which will make the statement that we are really committed to bringing together science, technology, and policy for transition into practice.”

The new building will house DENIN as well as the University of Delaware Energy Institute (UDEI), Barteau said. Considerable synergy between the two institutes is expected.

Chaired by Paul Imhoff, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the technical session included talks by nine experts:

  • John Byrne, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy - The Environmental Challenge: Acting at the Science-Policy Interface;
  • Murray Johnston, Chemistry and Biochemisty - Nanoparticles in Urban Air;
  • Dom Di Toro, Civil and Environmental Engineering - Modeling Applications in Environmental Science and Engineering;
  • Jerry Kauffman, Water Resources Agency - The Delaware River Revival;
  • Holly Michael, Geological Sciences - Quantifying Fluid and Chemical Exchange Between Aquifers and the Ocean;
  • Eric Wommack, Plant and Soil Sciences - Observations of the Most Abundant and Active Genes in the Biosphere: The Ecology of Viral Genes;
  • Jennifer Biddle, Marine Biosciences - Inside the Intraterrestrials: The Deep Biosphere Seen Through Massively Parallel Computing;
  • Anthony Aufdenkampe, Stroud Water Research Center - Christina River Basin Critical Zone Observatory: A Whole Watershed Approach to Quantifying Anthropogenic Modification of Carbon Sequestration; and
  • Pei Chiu, Civil and Environmental Engineering - Potential Impacts of Biochar Addition on Soil Transport Properties, Nutrient Levels, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

A poster session after lunch highlighted a number of additional projects addressing topics that included the effects of climate change on coastal aquifers, sustainable freight transportation, and the use of enhanced membrane distillation for water purification.

DENIN's goals are to initiate large, interdisciplinary research projects in areas in which UD researchers and affiliates are particularly strong; support strong interdisciplinary academic programs and facilitate the development of new interdisciplinary programs through colleges and departments; forge partnerships among government agencies, nonprofits, industry, policymakers, and the public to address environmental challenges and make a positive impact; and coordinate and sponsor signature University-based interdisciplinary initiatives.

Core research areas within the institute include processes at the air, land, sea interface; environmental forecasting and restoration; and ecosystem health.

DENIN research informs decision makers by providing a fundamental knowledge base to predict the outcomes of potential environmental policies and inform scientists and engineers of key uncertainties that must be better quantified if the policies are to be effective.

The institute's partners include 17 additional research centers at UD and DSU organized around topics ranging from remote sensing, disasters, and coastal processes to soil and environmental quality, marine policy, and environmental genomics.

Article by Diane Kukich
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson