Donald De Alwis & Sally Landefeld – 2018/2019 Young Investigator Scholarship Winners
Donald De Alwis is currently studying towards dual degrees in Environmental Science and Public Health Science at the University of Maryland, College Park. He specializes in environmental health, and enjoys exploring the interface between humans and the environment. He hopes to continue researching the human-environment nexus after his bachelor’s degree through a graduate or professional degree program.
Donald’s project focuses on the use of locally sourced compost to facilitate hydric soil conditions in wetland restoration. He will use cow manure and Bloom, a biosolid produced by a local water utility company, at three different cure times. Through a soil microcosm experiment, he will analyze ferrous iron and methane production with the intention of determining which soil amendment and cure time maximizes microbial activity while reducing greenhouse gas production. The results of the experiment will determine the feasibility of a novel use for compost, and will inform restoration practices for Maryland’s vast wetland ecosystems.
Sally Landefeld received a BA in chemistry from Occidental College in Los Angeles. Upon realizing that many preventable chronic diseases stem from lifestyle and food nutritional quality, Sally changed her plans to attend medical school and left the biomedical research field to focus on the root of the issue: soil health. She earned a MS in Environmental Science and Engineering from Oregon Health and Science University in 2017 and is pursuing a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington.
Sally’s research aims to characterize the relationship between soil health and plant health: Does healthier soil grow healthier food? This project is looking at common garden crops grown in four types of soil amendments: composted biosolids from Pierce County (TAGRO), composted biosolids from King County (GroCo), vermicompost, and bokashi. These soils will be tested for a suite of chemical, physical, and biological properties to characterize the soil health, and crops are undergoing analysis for macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, and phytonutrients that act as potent antioxidants. Sally is hoping that her project may help “close the loop” on urban waste, provide fertile soil to local urban gardens, and sequester carbon in the form of soil organic matter.
Russell Galanti – 2017/2018 Young Investigator Scholarship Winner
Russell Galanti is from Maryland originally and got his undergraduate degree in Horticulture Science from Temple University in Pennsylvania. He is now completing his Master's in Tropical Plant and Soil Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He plans to continue his research in improving agro-ecosystem cultural management under the context of sustainable agriculture.
Russell's project focused on looking at the effects of five locally sourced soil amendments on plant health and production and soil properties in macadamia orchards. The treatments were wood chip mulch, macadamia husk mulch, husk mulch with biochar, husk mulch with lactic acid bacteria inoculation, and soil profiling. He looked at tree yield, root growth, and tissue nitrogen, as well as soil organic matter, soil nitrogen, pH and electrical conductivity. This project focused on protecting Hawaii's limited natural resources, reducing the need for external resources. A cost benefit analysis was also be performed to determine the economic suitability of such treatments.
Clara Tang – 2016/2017 Young Investigator Scholarship Winner
Clara Tang, a master's student at North Carolina State, was chosen based on her project - looking at exploring alternative ways to manage soils more sustainably and seeking to understand the impacts of the use of compost on soil health. Her project evaluated the interactive effect of mycorrhiza and compost on soil and plant health by looking at the change in physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil and how that relates to plant growth. The main focus of the study was to determine the changes in the microbial communities by contrasting sterilized treatments to non-sterilized and determining if the beneficial effects of compost and mycorrhiza were due solely to nutrient addition or also enhanced by the microorganism present in these amendments.
Brandon Erny – 2015-2016 Young Investigator Scholarship Winner
Brandon Erny’s winning proposal, "Investigating the use of biochar to increase nutrient retention in compost-production, and following compost spreading," tested the role of biochar, charcoal used for soil amendment purposes, on retaining soil nutrients that normally escape in the compost process. Erny was compost manager at Sterling College in Vermont, where he studied carpentry and sustainable design.