LAWRENCE — To answer questions about pollinators, prairie restoration, aquatic ecology or Earth’s ecosystems, scientists have to get into the field. Every field researcher begins as a student, and at KU, the Kansas Biological Survey provides annual awards to help cover costs associated with students’ summer field projects.
The Biological Survey, a KU research center, manages the KU Field Station. It has presented five students with its 2017 KU Field Station Student Research Awards. The program offers assistance for research at the Field Station or within Kansas.
“Student use of the KU Field Station is growing,” said Ed Martinko, director of the Biological Survey. “In five years, 14 departments and schools used it for 55 different courses. That translates to more than 7,000 student visits just for classes — and more are coming.
“Then there’s individual research, and for these students, our awards, combined with the Field Station’s nearby location, can be pivotal in facilitating field work. Its close proximity to campus is a huge advantage, almost unique among university field stations. It’s something Harvard, Yale and most other Research I universities don’t offer.”
The survey provided awards in two categories this year. The first, the Mari F. Pesek Graduate Research Award, assists a graduate student who will do research at the Field Station or within Kansas. The “Mari Award” is named for KU student who spent many hours at the Field Station’s prairie research plots studying plants and insects. In 2013, she died in an automobile accident shortly after graduating from with the master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.
Theo Michaels, Santa Rosa, California, doctoral student in ecology & evolutionary biology, received a $1,000 award through the fund named for Pesek. Michaels studies grassland ecology and restoration with a focus on plant-soil interactions. Her project is “Mechanisms of nucleation: Plant-soil feedbacks as catalysts for tallgrass prairie restoration.”
“It’s humbling to receive this particular award because it’s connected with someone whose joy continues to influence others,” Michaels said. “Everyone I talk to about Mari speaks about her with joy. Science has such a seriousness about it, but we all love being in the field, exploring, exercising our curiosity. I feel the responsibility to do good work and do it with joy.”
Michaels’s adviser is Ben Sikes, assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and assistant scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey.
In the second award category, three graduate students and one undergraduate received the Nason/KU Field Station Student Awards, which assist one or more students who will do some part of their research at the Field Station.
Emma Houser, Athens, Ohio, doctoral student in ecology & evolutionary biology, received a $500 award. Her research project is “Illuminating pathways of forest nutrient provision: Relative release from soil mineral and organic pools.” Her adviser is Sharon Billings, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey.
Aaron Koop, Newton, doctoral student in geography, received a $500 award. His project is “Development and application of a quantitative pedogenic model.” His adviser is Dan Hirmas, associate professor of geography and atmospheric science.
Steven Prohira, Denver doctoral student in physics, received a $500 award. His research project is “Deployment of an autonomous ratio-based cosmic-ray detector at the KU Field Station.” His adviser is Dave Besson, professor of physics.
Sarah Anderson, Lowell, Arkansas, junior in environmental studies, received a $500 award. Her project is “Examination of body size variation in cavity-nesting bees (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae) across tallgrass prairie sites in eastern Kansas.” Her adviser is Deborah Smith, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology.
In 2018, a new award, the Baldwin Woods Conservation Award, will be available to students. The Baldwin Woods Forest Preserve of the KU Field Station doubled in size in 2016 to 456 acres, and the site offers extensive research opportunities.
Each of the KU Field Station Student Research Awards is funded through KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU.
The Kansas Biological Survey was established at KU in 1911. It houses a diverse group of environmental research and remote sensing/GIS programs. The Survey also manages the 3,700-acre KU Field Station, established in 1947. It offers sites for study in the sciences, arts and humanities.
Photo: Theo Michaels studies prairie restoration methods at the Field Station’s Anderson County Prairie Preserve.