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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Former Secondary Science Teacher studies Geomicrobiology and Microbial Ecology with MAPS Researchers

    When Christina Richardson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geology from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, she also graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary Education and obtained an Illinois teaching certification. Following graduation, she began her career as a substitute teacher in Illinois, and then later, she became a teacher aid in Indiana. Although, Christina is originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, she grew up in New Delhi, India, so it was not unusual that in June of 2012, she accepted a position in New Delhi serving as an Education Consultant for the Metro Delhi International School.
Christina presenting her research at the
2018 Geological Society of America (GSA)
meeting in Indianapolis, IN
     As an Education Consultant, Christina created “the middle school science curriculum and the high school biology curriculum,” as well as developed the science safety guidelines and the school's annual Science Fair. In addition, she taught 6th through 8th grade science and high school biology. After working four years as an Education Consultant, Christina decided she wanted to go back to school to earn a master's degree because, as she explains, “ ... I realized that I missed studying science for myself.” She added that her interest in studying “Geomicrobiology and Microbial Ecology grew through my students’ curiosity in high school biology and my desire to learn about and promote more sustainable agricultural and water management practices around the world.” So, she moved back to the U.S. to pursue a Master of Science in Geology at Kansas State University (KSU).
    Now in her second year, Christina is working on her master's project with Dr. Matthew Kirk, Associate Professor in the Geology Department at KSU and a team leader of the Soil Systems research team, and Dr. Lydia Zeglin, Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at KSU and a team leader for the Aquatic Systems research team, both involved with the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS).  On November 16, 2018, Christina presented a poster featuring her research at the MAPS All Science Meeting held at the Konza Prairie Biological Station. Christina collaborated on the poster project with a fellow graduate student, Alexandria Richard. The title of their poster was “Impact of Land Use on Groundwater Chemistry and Microbial Communities in the Great Bend Prairie Aquifer.” Within their research project, Christina focused on looking closely at “the soil and aquifer microbial communities in the Great Bend Prairie Aquifer to understand how they are impacted by land use” while Alexandria focused on the “impact of land use on groundwater chemistry in the Great Bend Prairie Aquifer.”
Left: Surveying for soil sampling sites near monitoring wells in south-central
Kansas, and 
Right: Sampling soils at different depths, using ethanol and gloves
to ensure the soil microbial communities remained intact with minimal
contamination of microbes from other sources.
     Christina explained what their research addressed as follows: “Microbial species engage in redox reactions that significantly affect aquifer geochemistry and water quality. Previous studies have focused on the impact of land use on groundwater quality as well as on soil microbial communities. However, very little research has been conducted to understand the influence of land use on aquifer microbial communities. In this study, we are examining the relationship between land use and aquifer microbiology in the Great Bend Prairie Aquifer, a portion of the High Plains Aquifer in south-central Kansas. We hypothesized that land use significantly impacts the composition of the shallow aquifer microbial community and that the composition of the groundwater microbiome will be related to the composition of the soil microbiome. To test these hypotheses, we are comparing the shallow aquifer microbial communities to groundwater geochemistry and to soil geochemistry and microbiology in areas of different land use. We have analyzed multiple samples of the soil and aquifer microbiomes to compare the composition and diversity of their microbial communities. In addition, we have measured environmental parameters (e.g. pH, particle size, EC, OM, NO3-, NO2-, NH3, Mg, Ca) in the soil and shallow aquifer at each sampling site. We are currently analyzing our collected data with alpha and beta diversity tests through QIIME and RStudio. Because land use changes many environmental factors (e.g. added nutrients through fertilizers, pesticides, and manure; change in soil structure via cattle or machinery compaction), we expect to see significant correlations between the shallow aquifer and soil microbial communities of cropland compared to those of pastoral sites.”
     As for her future plans after graduation, Christina said, “I plan to get some experience in the environmental consulting world while my husband is still in the Army, and I am interested in pursuing more research and higher education in the future. Eventually, I plan to work internationally as an environmental consultant.”

The Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas workforce development, and educational objectives are designed to enhance research capacity and STEM education in Kansas, expand the STEM workforce and prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.