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University of New Hampshire Student Receives EPA Money for Environmental Research

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Emily Bender (

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave STAR Award to a doctoral student in New Hampshire for environmental research. The award is worth $132,000 to support their graduate research and studies.

Seven Science to Achieve Results, or STAR, Awards, totaling nearly $1 million, were given to students in five New England universities.

Christopher Whitney of Mashpee, Mass., received the funding for a project at UNH that will look at how beaver ponds can help reduce the increasing amount of nitrogen going into waterways due to urbanization. Various techniques will take careful measurements to understand how beaver ponds can reduce nitrogen through an entire river network

"I was beyond excited to receive the email saying I had been awarded a STAR grant," said Whitney. "This funding will help us understand how beavers can reduce the buildup of nutrients in rivers, a key to protecting our natural resources, particularly in areas with the pressures of development."

Whitney was among 52 graduate students nationwide to receive awards for studying and conducting research at 37 U.S. universities in disciplines such as atmospheric chemistry, green energy, hydrogeology and predictive toxicology.

"Students who get the STAR awards will be doing innovative research while getting their advanced academic degrees," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator at EPA New England. "These fellows will help us move ahead in addressing issues of environmental and public health."

EPA's Science To Achieve Results graduate fellowship program supports masters and doctoral candidates in environmental studies. Students can pursue degrees in traditionally recognized environmental disciplines as well as other fields such as social anthropology, urban and regional planning, and decision sciences.

Master's students are awarded a maximum funding of $88,000 over two years and doctoral students are awarded up to $132,000 for three years to support their graduate research and studies.

Since the program began more than 20 years ago, graduate students from the STAR Fellowship Program have engaged in innovative research opportunities leading some to become prominent leaders in environmental science. The program has awarded nearly 2,000 students a total of more than $65 million in funding since 1995. This year's STAR Fellows are poised to become the next generation of environmental professionals who can make significant impacts in environmental science and beyond

The other New England grants, each for $132,000, were for:

  • Yale University in New Haven, Conn. to Fjodor Melnikov of Foxborough, Mass., for a research project that will look at toxicity data to help find ways to replace hazardous chemicals now on the market with safe substances.

    "The STAR grants provide unique support stream for research collaborations such as our initiative for safer chemical design and allow for growth and maturation of interdisciplinary research in the fields of chemistry, toxicology, environmental and computational sciences," Melnikov said.

  • Yale University to Amrutasri Ashwini Nori-Sarma of Wilmington, N.C, for a project that will assess the relationship between air pollution exposure in cities in India and health among urban poor communities. Nori-Sarma will spend the coming year documenting the seasonal trends in air pollution levels in Mysore and Chennai, India.

    "I am extremely grateful for the amazing opportunity provided by the EPA STAR fellowship," Nori-Sarma said. "The support from the EPA demonstrates a strong ongoing commitment to training doctoral students to help solve current pressing environmental issues, and these fellowships are crucial in allowing me and many other students to follow our passions."

  • University of Connecticut in Storrs to Rebecca L. Rubinstein of Concord, NH, for a project that looks at biological wastewater treatment and aims to develop a model that will help guide process control decisions to improve treatment efficacy.

    "I am very excited for this opportunity, which will allow us to better understand the biological treatment system, and ultimately optimize the process to improve effluent quality," Rubenstein said.

  • University of Connecticut in Avery Point to Vena N. Haynes of Pukalani, Hawaii, for a project that will look at how UV rays interact with titanium dioxide nanoparticles, a pollutant used in sunscreens, paints and facial cleansers, among other things, and how the interaction affects organisms that form the base of the marine planktonic food web.

    "My research investigates the effects of environmental pollutants on marine food webs," Haynes said. "I focus specifically on the effects of nano-sized particles found in personal care products

  • Boston University in Boston, Mass, to Lariah Marie Edwards of O'Fallon, Ill., for a project on the link obesity and osteoporosis have with exposure to environmental chemicals that activate a specific receptor in the body. That increased receptor activity can be a predictor of health effects. By assessing receptor activity, Edwards proposes to develop a biomarker for exposure to mixtures of environmental chemicals implicated in obesity and osteoporosis.

    "I love my research and believe it will benefit public health, so it is truly exciting when others also recognize the value in your research and its potential impacts," Edwards said. "With the EPA Star funding, I now have the flexibility to extend my research in new directions that will support the original objectives."

  • University of Massachusetts – Amherst to Gina M. Chaput of Merrimack, NH, for a project that looks at replacing hazardous chemicals with bacteria for paper pulping as well as funnel waste from the pulping process towards biofuel and biomaterial production.

    "I am very honored to be part of the EPA STAR Fellowship, it gives me the wonderful opportunity to address our nation's environmental and energy issues in my Ph.D dissertation. I hope the results from this work reshape how we make paper at an industrial scale as well as utilize what would otherwise be waste from the pulping process for something valuable such as a biofuel source."

As part of a federal-wide reorganization of programs supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the funding for EPA's STAR and Greater Research Opportunities, or GRO, fellowship programs has been consolidated this year with the National Science Foundation fellowship programs. This reorganization strategically increases federal resources for STEM undergraduate and graduate education into one agency allowing more students fellowship opportunities. EPA is also a partner with the NSF through the Graduate Research Internship Program, which has a number of federal agencies as partners. This program expands opportunities for NSF Graduate Research Fellows to enhance their professional development through an internship at EPA where they can participate in research experience and receive mentoring from scientists, all while focusing on the protection of human health and the environment.

Learn more about these fellows (

Learn more about EPA's Fellowship opportunities (