Soil & Water Sciences Research Forum Cultivates Scientific Leaders

By Jessica Pardo, Communications Specialist, SWSD

Student presents poster

SWS Student, Joshua Papacek, presents his poster at the research forum. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Students of the University of Florida’s (UF) Soil and Water Sciences Department (SWSD) presented their research projects at the 17th Annual Soil and Water Sciences Research Forum on Thursday, September 15th, 2016 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union at UF in Gainesville.

These students, from various specializations and interests across the discipline, selected their specific area of research and conducted experiments with the guidance of advisor(s) within the department. They summarized their studies in posters that were displayed at the forum.

There were 37 posters submitted for judging by graduate and undergraduate students, 16 non-judged entries from post-doctoral students and visiting scholars, and 5 PhD Graduate Student Oral Presentations. Of all these participants, six took home awards.

  1. Anne Sexton, Best Oral Presentation
  2. Evandro B. da Silva, Best Graduate Student Poster Presentation
  3. Peng Gao, Best Graduate Student Poster Presentation
  4. Katie McCurley, Best Graduate Student Poster Presentation
  5. Katsutoshi Mizuta, Best Graduate Student Poster Presentation
  6. Chelsea Hazlett, Best Undergraduate Poster Presentation

Students selected their research focus with the guidance of their advisor(s), choosing a topic that most appealed to them and was within the soil and water sciences discipline.

Katie McCurley

Katie McCurley | SWS Photo

Katie McCurley, SWSD graduate student, expressed that she has always been interested in the intersection of sociology and hydrology, or humans and water resources. Her advisor, Dr. James Jawitz, had an interest in the evolution of hydrology. Their combined interests were the inspiration behind McCurley’s unique, interdisciplinary research project, entitled Hyphenated Hydrology: Multidisciplinary Evolution of Water Resource Science.

This was McCurley’s first poster in a soil and water sciences research forum. When asked how the forum benefited her personally, McCurley said, “Learning to explain my research to others and gaining exposure to others’ research is really valuable.”

Katsutoshi Mizuta

Katsutoshi Mizuata | SWS Photo

Katsutoshi Mizuta, or “Toshi,” as most folks call him, was also interested in an interdisciplinary research project. His research allowed for the soil and water sciences discipline to cross paths with econometrics – something that has never been done before, according to Mizuta. This one-of-a-kind research project was called Prototype Development of a New Soil Index Using Econometrics Method: Data Envelopment Analysis. Dr. Sabine Grunwald is Mizuta’s advisor.

“We were the first group in the world to understand and apply an economic method for soil science,” Mizuta said. “Our research bridges the gap between the two disciplines.”

Mizuta explained how he wanted to continue contributing to interdisciplinary interactions in the future. “It’s all about expanding views and perspectives and improving logical thinking,” Mizuta said.

What better place is there to expand your views and perspectives than at a research forum?

Evandro da Silva

Evandro B. da Silva | SWS Photo

Evandro B. da Silva, another SWSD graduate student and award winner, expressed how the forum was beneficial to not only the students, but also to the department as a whole.

“You get to tell the story of your research using your data,” da Silva said, as he expressed that English is not his first language so communicating his research effectively can be a challenge.

“The forum brings the (SWSD) community together so that you have a chance to talk to your colleagues and professors and know what they are working on,” da Silva said. “It gives you an opportunity to learn to present to the scientific community and the non-scientific community.”

Da Silva’s research poster was titled Phytoremediation of As-contaminated soils by As-hyperaccumulator Pteris vittata: Long-term Efficiency and Biomass Disposal. His project was a long-term experiment, conducted over the course of six years, and his goal was to see how much arsenic the plant Pteris vittata can remove from the soil. The unique ability of this plant to accumulate arsenic was discovered in 2001 by his advisor, Dr. Lena Q. Ma.

Dr. James Jawitz, SWSD Associate Chair and coordinator of the research forum, emphasized the significance of the event.

“The forum provides an opportunity to experience the broad range of research the department is engaged in,” Jawitz said. “The event puts a focus on student research, and enables sharing results with colleagues in a friendly environment.”

This year’s forum had a record number of poster presentations, according to Jawitz. “It was overall probably the best one in our 17 years of doing this,” he said.

There will be an opportunity next year for students and others to participate in the 18th Annual Soil and Water Sciences Research Forum, which will be held Thursday, September 14, 2017 in the J. Wayne Reitz Union at the University of Florida.