Laura Meredith, an assistant professor of ecosystem genomics in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE) and the BIO5 Institute, has been recognized for her early career success with a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.
The award is the NSF’s most prestigious recognition for early-career faculty members and “embodies NSF’s commitment to encourage faculty and academic institutions to value and support the integration of research and education” and recognizes individuals “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”
Over the next five years, Meredith will receive approximately $750,000 from the program to further investigate how plants and microbes interact belowground, with a particular focus on volatile organic compounds (VOC) and how they influence biogeochemical cycles and soil health.
The NSF CAREER award compliments an ongoing NSF project funded by the Signals in Soil program that has allowed Meredith to collaborate with industry partners, including Aerodyne Research, Inc. and QuantAQ, Inc., to develop low-cost VOC sensors to better measure volatile metabolites and understand how plant-microbe interactions influence carbon and nitrogen dynamics.
“Part of this new project will focus on using isotope tracers and soil probes that we've been developing to try to pinpoint who's doing what below ground and to better understand VOC cycling,” Meredith said. “Essentially, we are sniffing the soil to learn about soil microbiomes, their health, and their impact on climate and the environment.”
Meredith will also use the funding to open additional opportunities to students, including within her own research and through a new internship program that will allow UArizona undergraduate students to conduct research with industry partners over the summer.
“I really love mentoring students and teaching students through research, that's my passion,” Meredith said.
‘Learning through doing’ is an important teaching model Meredith has carried with her from her own undergraduate and graduate experiences. In that vein, she plans to develop a course that bridges atmospheric chemistry and ecosystem science that will give students hands-on experience in field measurements and data analysis to help them better work across disciplines.
The project will derive new understanding from soil and VOC data sets collected at Biosphere 2 during the recent international WALD campaign, explained Meredith.
“Students engaged in research and the measurement course will add new VOC sensors to the Biosphere 2 Tropical Rainforest biome to study the ecological drivers of VOC cycling in the unique and controllable model ecosystem,” Meredith said. “To bridge ecosystem and atmospheric sciences, students will evaluate how biological and anthropogenic VOC emissions influence air quality in Southern Arizona and other regions worldwide, helping students draw connections from the biosphere to the atmosphere and back.”
“Many congratulations to Dr. Meredith on this well-deserved national recognition for her vital and innovative research, her commitment to student success through teaching and mentorship, and partnership with industry,” said Shane Burgess, Vice President of Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension. “We are truly fortunate to have Dr. Meredith’s talent and leadership in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”