JOHNSON, VT -- Six students at Johnson State College have been selected by Vermont EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) to serve as summer interns and research assistants to JSC faculty studying climate change. The paid internships began June 2 and runs through Aug. 8 and are funded by EPSCoR's Research on Adaptation to Climate Change (RACC) program. The students -- all seniors majoring in biology or environmental science at JSC -- will work with professors in JSC's Department of Environmental & Health Sciences.
Nasser Abdel-Fatah, of Randolph, Vt., will help Dr. Tania Bacchus compile statistics from the St. Johnsbury weather station as part of Bacchus' long-term research into climate change in northern Vermont. The two also will help Kathy Hockman, a teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy, start a weather-monitoring project at her school.
The other five students -- Kateri Bisceglio of Waterbury Center, Chelsea Cole of Georgia, Dalton Gomez of Cambridge, Joshua Hunt of Barton, and Todd Lantery of Montgomery Center -- will help Dr. Robert Genter measure levels of E. coli bacteria, phosphorus and nitrogen in rivers in the Lamoille Valley.
"Our goal at JSC is to conduct meaningful environmental research while training the next generation of scientists," Genter said. The students will be responsible for all aspects of research this summer into potential sources of E. coli and the loading of phosphorus and nitrogen in streams in the Lamoille River drainage basin.
Just as climate affects the type of vegetation in a particular region, the type of vegetation affects the type of animals and other living things -- including bacteria -- that live in the region, Genter explained. Changes in E. coli can reflect changing agricultural practices, the relocation of plants and animals, and higher levels of fecal pollution in waterways -- all typical results of rising temperatures and global warming.
The E. coli research at Johnson State College by Genter and his students began about five years ago.
"We're collecting some of the first data tracking the source of E. coli microbes in Vermont, so we're setting the baseline for a long-term study of climate change in the state," he said. "It takes decades for trends in climate change to be noted, so 20 and 30 years from now, scientists will be able to compare the data they collect against ours and see what is going on."
The JSC students working this summer will collect water samples from streams, measure water quality and river flows, process and analyze water samples in the laboratory, and record data in spreadsheets. As part of the process, they will collect and isolate E. coli, which are identified by ribotyping, a "barcode" method of genetic fingerprinting.
"Working on this type of research project is a wonderful opportunity for students," Genter said. "They'll learn subtle things on the job that aren't always mentioned in coursework, so they'll gain valuable experience and a broader range of knowledge that will make them more marketable for graduate school and the workforce."
The JSC students will present their work at the Vermont EPSCoR Student Research Symposium in April 2015 along with EPSCoR interns from St. Michael's College, Middlebury College and the University of Vermont. For more information about EPSCoR's RACC undergraduate Internships, visit http://www.uvm.edu/~epscor/new02/?q=node/111.