Environmental chemistry graduate students win fellowships

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The University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute (WRI) is pleased to share good news involving two graduate students advised by Dr. Matthew Ginder-Vogel of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, some of whose research has been supported by WRI.

Madeleine (Maddie) Mathews and Amy Plechacek have been awarded prestigious fellowships to continue their studies. Mathews has won a Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship, and Plechacek a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Both are studying geochemical interactions of radium within the Midwestern Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system. This connects to research begun with WRI funding. Mathews is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Environmental Chemistry and Technology, and Plechacek is a new graduate student working on an M.S. in the same field.

Find out more about each below—and hearty congratulations to both!

Maddie Mathews

Maddie Mathews doing research in the field.

Hometown: Santa Barbara, Calif.

About my research:

Radium is a carcinogen that can be present in aquifer systems. Better understanding of potential sources of radium and geochemical influences on radium mobility within these systems will inform well construction to avoid pumping water elevated in radium.

My own research focuses more on the chemical interactions between the aquifer solids and parent nuclides, uranium and thorium, and radium isotopes. The parent nuclides undergo radioactive decay to produce radium isotopes. Geochemical conditions within the aquifer impact each element differently, and subsequently how the element is released to groundwater.

How this WRI-supported research has helped me:

Through this research opportunity funded by WRI, I’ve expanded my passion for studying natural water systems to better understand safe drinking water sources.

In particular, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the interactions between water and geologic formations, and how contaminants are mobilized within such systems. Professionally, developing this strong background in the geochemistry of natural waters systems will provide future job opportunities in the same field.

Amy Plechacek

Amy Plechacek

Hometown: Boyd, Wis.

About my research:

Like Maddie, I am studying radium geochemistry in the Midwestern Cambrian-Ordovician Aquifer System.

I just began my graduate studies this semester (fall 2018), but I hope to focus on investigating the geologic controls on the distribution of radium concentrations across Wisconsin.

How this WRI-supported research has helped me:

So far, being involved with this project has allowed me to become more familiar with groundwater issues and how they are being addressed by water utilities. The project is very interdisciplinary in nature, so I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from scientists in other disciplines.