2013 Research Fellows
Alon Blakeney - Biology (Microbial Ecology)

My Master’s degree research area focuses on the comparison of sediment biogeochemical processes and the microbial communities that are responsible for these processes.  This work mainly focuses on estuaries and how these ecosystems respond to an influx of nutrients, which cause an overgrowth of algae, that subsequently depletes oxygen in the system as they die and are decomposed.  The community structure, which is examined using 16S rRNA sequencing techniques, is compared to the amount of nutrient data and oxygen demand in the sediments.  This method may be a way to replace conventional methods for studying nutrient dynamics in the system.

Benjamin Breland - Geosciences (Subsurface Geology)

My Master’s graduate research involves principles of geology, subsurface geology, petroleum geology, and stratigraphy.  My research aims to determine the reservoir potential and the pinch out of the updip Smackover Formation in east-central Mississippi.  My study uses subsurface contour mapping of formation tops and thicknesses from well log correlation and core sample descriptions to determine a stratigraphic pinch out of the Smackover Formation.  We hope this research will lead to a better understanding of the reservoir and trap potential of the updip Smackover Formation. 

Jonathan Geroux - Geosciences (Environmental Geochemistry)

My Masters research focuses on different methodologies for determining sediment porewater chemistry, specifically reduced forms of iron, manganese, and sulfides. I am proposing that Diffusive Gradients in Thin Film (DGT) in-situ sampling can be used as an alternative method for determining sediment oxygen demand of shallow bays.  The DGT Gels can be made to measure specific reduced metals and sulfide that can be indicators of low oxygen in the sediments.  Simultaneously I am conducting a comparative study between DGT gels, Centrifugation, and microelectrodes as to which of the three is fastest and cheapest for determining pore water metals and sulfides concentrations.

Toby (Michael) Gray - Geosciences (Geospatial Science)

My PhD research is on wildfire potential models. These models use weather data, in particular drought indexes, to predict wildfire potential. I am interested in how wildfire size and frequency vary across the conterminous 48 United States and the strength of correlation between historical wildfire data and historical weather data. My goal is to determine whether the correlations are strong in some areas and weak in others and, if so, what variables explain the difference. I am interested in landscape-level ecosystems, especially fire-dependent ones, and how regional boundaries are mapped.

Alexandria Grimes - Geosciences (Operational Meteorology)

My Masters graduate research is trying to forecast rapid intensification (RI) of tropical cyclones.  There is a limited understanding of the meteorological variables that are associated with this process.  I am currently trying to identify the variables using advanced statistical techniques, such as principal component analysis and permutation tests.  Using the variables found through composite RI and non-RI fields, I will be able to develop a prediction scheme using an artificial intelligence technique known as support vector machines.

Amy Martin - Chemistry (Biophysical Chemistry)

My Ph.D. research focuses on metal substituted metalloenzymes. Currently, I am utilizing isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) to identify thermodynamic properties of Mn2+, Fe2+, and Co2+ substituted Homoprotocatechuate 2, 3-dioxygenase (HPCD). HPCD is a biologically important enzyme that catalyzes the ring opening of aromatic compounds. Thermodynamic measurements provide meaning to active site alterations caused by metal substitution. Once understood, these changes could potentially be harnessed for specific biological purpose. I am also interested in elucidating structural characteristics of metal substituted carbonic anhydrase using X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy.

Josh Milar - Geosciences (Operational Meteorology)

My Masters graduate research is assessing the accuracy of different numerical weather model parameterization schemes in predicting convective tornado outbreaks. Each weather model has several preset options for a number of meteorological processes. Each option represents a slightly different combination of physical equations that express these meteorological processes mathematically. A set of the preset physical equations built in to the weather model is known as a parameterization scheme. The impact of slight, random perturbations in the set of initial meteorological variables used to initialize the model is also being studied in order to determine

Joseph Mitchell - Geosciences (Geoarchaeology)

My Ph.D. program of study is in geoarchaeology, with a focus in carbonate geochemistry.  My doctoral research addresses the stable oxygen isotope signatures in freshwater mussel growth bands from Mid-Late Woodland shell-ring sites in the Mississippi Delta. The goal is to establish a record of settlement history among Delta shell-rings, hopefully identifying whether they represent sedentary (i.e., year round) or seasonal occupations.  I am also interested in the biogeography and ecological trajectory of freshwater mussels in North America.

Nathan Owen - Geosciences (Operational Meteorology & GIS)

My Masters graduate research pertains to the interactions between land use/land cover (LULC) and cloud-to-ground lightning activity through the lower Mississippi River valley region.  If significant variations in cloud-to-ground lightning frequency exist between agricultural areas, deciduous forests, evergreen forests, urban areas, and water bodies, then it will be a step forward in understanding the role surface features play in atmospheric behavior.  It will also lead to conjecture on how humans may alter cloud-to-ground lightning activity through urbanization and deforestation. 

Kent Sparrow - Geosciences (Professional Meteorology & GIS)

My Masters graduate research investigates the influence of atmospheric teleconnections on tornado outbreak frequency in the US. While teleconnections have been associated with extreme weather events globally, little research has considered their potential influence on tornado outbreaks.  My goal is to create a statistical model that accurately predicts interannual tornado outbreak frequency using teleconnection indices.  The outcome of my research could possibly allow forecasters the ability to predict tornado outbreak potential with months of lead-time, allowing better preparation strategies for tornado outbreak seasons.

Charles Vaughan - Physics & Astronomy

My Ph.D. research goal is to geometrically model the comae of comets using ground-based observations of detected radical molecules.  Water is the dominant molecule in comets, but other chemicals are known to be present and frozen within the comet. When exposed to direct sunlight, these chemicals often undergo reactions and sublimate from the comet nucleus into the gaseous coma around the comet. While some of these gases are easily observed through ground-based spectroscopy, others are much more difficult to discern due to atmospheric interference or low intensity. 

Kendra Wright - Geosciences (Environmental Geology)

My Ph.D. research focus includes finding safe and reliable ways to remove heavy metal contaminants from water and continuous environmental cycling. My Masters research examined Mn-oxidizing Pseudomonas bacteria and the use of biogenic Mn oxides for Hg remediation in Oak Ridge, TN. For my PhD, I hope to continue research involving remediation techniques, possibly in oil spill remediation. Additionally, my PhD will have a strong Geoscience Educational component. Geoscience Educational interests involve outdoor education and promoting educational diversity.