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Rachael Morgan-Kiss receives NSF CAREER grant

04/15/2011

Rachael Morgan-Kiss receives National Science Foundation CAREER grant.
Rachael Morgan-Kiss, assistant professor of microbiology at Miami University, has been recognized as one of the nation's top young faculty in her field by the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the award of a CAREER grant from the NSF Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program.

She will receive more than $650,000 of research funding over five years for her research program on the influence of climate change on food web dynamics in one of the most sensitive aquatic ecosystems in the world - high latitude ice-covered Antarctic lakes systems.

The grant “will support a research team of undergraduate and graduate students on three Antarctic field seasons over five years,” Morgan-Kiss said. “While in Antarctica, the field team will interact in real time with undergraduate sophomores in a Polar Biology Module as part of a new microbiology honors course, as well as with middle school students as part of a new outreach program for Girls in Science.”

Her research will focus on single-celled microorganisms (protists) residing in permanently ice-capped lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) in Victoria Land, Antarctica. The lakes support microbial communities in chemically stratified water columns that are not mixed seasonal and receive minimal direct human impact. Protists have critical functions in aquatic food chains in energy flow and material cycling. They can act as primary producers - photoautotrophs (e.g. plants, fixing carbon by photosynthesis) - and as consumers (consuming bacteria by phagotrophic digestion). Mixotrophic protists can function as both producers and consumers in the aquatic food web.

The overall goals of the project are to understand how abiotic drivers – light and nutrients – impact protist trophic strategy and to predict how future episodic climate events will impact protist trophic function in chemically stratified Antarctic lakes. Combining results from field, laboratory and in situ incubation studies will lead to the synthesis of new models for the protist trophic roles in the aquatic food web.

Morgan-Kiss joined Miami in 2007. She received her doctorate from the University of Western Ontario in 2000 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, 2001-2005. She was a research consultant at the McMurdo Long Term Ecological Research Site, Antarctica, in 2005 and was a research associate at the University of Delaware 2006-2007.

The NSF CAREER Award is one of the organization's most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

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