Cheyenne Reuben-Thomas, a doctoral student in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology, does field work on land management.

Grad student grants support sustainability, biodiversity

Thirty-one graduate students across three colleges have been awarded research grants from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. The grants provide support for up to two years to doctoral students whose research advances sustainable biodiversity, energy transitions, food security, human health or reducing climate risk.

The annual awards, from Atkinson’s Sustainable Biodiversity Fund and Graduate Research Grants, are intended to forward innovative research while supporting early-career scientists.

“These grants jump-start graduate student research across an extraordinarily broad range of sustainability fields,” said Christine Goodale, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Environmental Science in the College of Arts and Sciences and faculty director for student and postdoc programming for Cornell Atkinson. “They also build community and provide training for Cornell’s next generation of sustainability scholars, who gain experience preparing and evaluating interdisciplinary grant proposals, and later share the findings from their awards at annual graduate research symposia.”

Some of the awarded projects are:

  • “Playing with Fire: Comparing the Effects of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Settler Colonialism on Insect Diversity.” Cheyenne Reuben-Thomas, a doctoral student in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology, will study how different land management strategies impact insect biodiversity, with particular focus on lands stewarded by Indigenous communities. Her work is supported by the Sustainable Biodiversity Fund. Many Indigenous communities use traditional practices of “good fire,” or controlled burning, to increase local biodiversity, but most research on such practices has focused on plants. Reuben-Thomas will study the effects of good fire on insect biodiversity, in collaboration with the Yurok Tribe of Northern California and her home Nation, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin (Reuben-Thomas is Oneida, enrolled member, and Seneca). She’ll also sample insects on similar sites maintained by government agencies to investigate biodiversity outcomes compared to Indigenous-managed lands. Reuben-Thomas is advised by Corrie Moreau, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and of entomology, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
  • “Combustion of Liquid Fuels at Elevated Pressures.” Songtao Guo, a doctoral student in the field of materials science and engineering, will investigate how pressure affects soot formation during combustion of liquid fuels. Soot particles contribute to air pollution and global climate change. Biofuel burning creates significantly less soot than burning of coal or other fossil fuels, but it still causes pollution, especially when burned at higher pressures. Guo will study how pressure differences during burning of iso-butanol, a biofuel with higher energy density than ethanol, impact soot formation. With his Graduate Research Grant award, he hopes to identify optimal operating conditions for biofuel-powered engines to minimize soot emissions, with implications for many fuels. Guo is advised by C. Thomas Avedisian, professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in Cornell Engineering.
  • “Power Beyond the Party: Trade, Industry Origins, and Local Government in China’s Clean Energy Transition.” Christina Pan, a doctoral student in the field of government, will examine domestic policies around clean energy transitions in China. She will study interactions between the central government, local governments and private entrepreneurs to understand what factors lead to successful (or not) development of the clean energy sector. With her Graduate Research Grant award, Pan will use comparative case analyses, interviews, archival research and statistical analyses to elucidate the drivers of various government subsidy strategies in China intended to encourage a transition to cleaner energy. Pan’s work will also shed light on the role of U.S. and E.U. energy-related trade policies. Pan is advised by Jeremy Lee Wallace, professor of government (A&S).

Descriptions of all 14 Graduate Research Grant awarded projects and 17 Sustainable Biodiversity Fund projects are available at the Cornell Atkinson website.

Krisy Gashler is a freelance writer for Cornell Atkinson.


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