The Composting Council Research & Education Foundation’s (CCREF) Board of Trustees has announced the winners of this year’s Compost Research Scholarships for College Students. Two students were awarded national scholarships. The Foundation received many worthwhile applications but these two stood above the rest.
The CCREF annual scholarship is available to college students to assist with their compost research projects.The goal of the scholarship is to encourage more compost-related research projects, a core mission of the Foundation.
Gerard Braun attends The Ohio State University in Wooster, Ohio pursing a MS in Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering (FABE) with a focus on biosystems. His project involves the development of a protocol for detection of low-level persistent herbicide (< 10 ppb) in finished compost using plants in a bioassay procedure. Analytical chemical analysis of low-level herbicide contamination is difficult and expensive.
Phytotoxicity levels of clopyralid, aminopyalid, aminocyclopyrachlor and picloram have been detected in finished compost. This problem of persistent herbicides in finished compost will lead to crop damage for farmers or for home gardeners. Compost facilities and home composters are faced with this problem with two solutions: expensive testing that takes time and must be sent out (if analytical facilities do not exist) or performing a bioassay trail to determine herbicide level. With the various procedures and documentation to perform these bioassay, this project will work to test these different methods and develop a peer reviewed recommendation on how to test for different contaminates. With this in mind, the goal is to better understand how to perform these bioassay and create a uniform bioassay testing procedure any compost facility or home composter could perform. The information gathered from this experiment will contribute to further prove the validity of plant-based bioassay experiments to determine herbicide contamination.
Alex Thomas completed his undergraduate degrees in Biology and Waste Resources before working in Waste Management and Planning in Eastern Washington for the last three years. Most recently, Alex has become a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point under the Soils and Waste Resources Department. Alex’s project is looking at the issue of Chronic Wasting Disease which has been a growing concern in wildlife and waste management. The prion-based disease has spread rapidly over the past decade, infecting cervid populations all over the US. The protein that causes the disease is extremely environmentally persistent, with contaminated soils shown to contain the infectious prion several years after exposure. Of the currently 58 licensed landfills in the state, only 13 are accepting CWD carcasses. This extremely limits the disposal capability for infected carcasses and has created increased costs for disposal through incineration. The plan is to investigate whether composting these infected carcasses will yield deactivation of the prion. To test this, Alex, and others working on the project from University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, have created bio-based compost piles of infected deer carcasses and are monitoring temperature, effluent movement, and other conditions as the piles breakdown. Additionally, the plan is to expand the project to include analysis of pathogen movement and reduction through mortality composting.