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Three Graduate Students Receive PEI Walbridge Fund Awards


This May, three graduate students were selected as recipients of the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) Walbridge Fund Graduate Award. The 2011 awardees include: Matthew Aardema, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Josephine Anastasia Elia, Chemical and Biological Engineering; and Matthis Paul Hain, Geosciences. To date the PEI Walbridge Fund Award, initiated in 2009, has generously provided research support to seven Princeton graduate students pursuing innovative projects in the fields of energy technology, carbon policy and climate science.

Matthew Aardema

Tiger Swallowtail butterflies
Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies (Photo: Matthew Aardema)

Aardema was awarded for his project entitled "The Influence of Climate on Patterns of Gene Flow Between Ecologically Divergent Populations." Aardema plans to use tiger swallowtail butterflies as a model system to investigate how insect species will respond to climate change in the future. Members of this butterfly species are easily reared in the lab and have a long history of use in ecological studies rendering them excellent candidates for examining how increasing temperatures are influencing the exchange of genetic material between ecologically divergent populations.

With these funds, Aardema will conduct four weeks of fieldwork this summer in the Midwest and the Appalachian Mountains. He plans to collect samples along key latitudinal transects in an attempt to decipher what components of climate change are having the greatest influence on population interactions.

"Ultimately, I hope that my graduate work will have applicability to insect pests that are important to human health or agriculture," said Aardema.

Josephine Anastasia Elia

energy supply chain network
The optimal energy supply chain network solved for a representative case study shows the selected facility locations, represented by green circles with sizes that correspond to the plant sizes. The amounts of coal, biomass, and natural gas feedstock in the United States are represented by the blue pentagons, green, yellow, and red squares, and tanned circles, respectively.

Elia was chosen for her proposal entitled "Discovery and Operation of Hybrid Coal, Biomass, and Natural Gas to Liquid (CBGTL) Energy Processes: Optimization Frameworks for Strategic Planning Under Uncertainty." As part of her Ph.D. research, Elia is developing methods to optimize the CBGTL plant network in the United States and seeking long-term, robust solutions that ensure minimal overall cost of transportation fuel production while using resources available in the U.S. Using the Walbridge funds, Elia will develop visualization tools that elucidate the economic trade-offs and other facets of the optimization solutions, and she will publicize the results via conference participations. When discussing her research plans, Elia said, "I anticipate that the systematic approaches I am now developing on strategic energy planning in the U.S. will have important implications on resource management and energy policy for the next 40 to 50 years."

Mathis Paul Hain

Cycling of ocean nutrients
The biological cycling of ocean nutrients is tightly coupled to the cycling of carbon and co-determines the amount of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the atmosphere. Geochemical models promise to be the key to quantitatively understand this class of climate forcing in the Earth's past and the future with human interference.

Hain’s project, entitled "Carbon Cycle Analysis," was also awarded. For his graduate research, Hain uses quantitative models to study the role of the global carbon cycle, ocean biogeochemistry, and circulation on determining the state of the global climate. With this award, Hain plans to purchase a powerful workstation computer to expand his computationally intensive simulations and sensitivity experiments of the climate system. "I am excited for the opportunity to purchase a personal supercomputer, which will permit for drastically improved spatial resolution and longer simulated time frames," said Hain. Hain hopes his research will lead to an improved assessment of the magnitude of future climate change and of the adverse effects on marine ecology that may be caused by human activity.

About the Award

Each student will receive between $6,000-7,000 grants in support of their graduate research, including fieldwork support, travel, conference participation, the purchase of equipment, and costs associated with data analysis and facilities use.