Pfiffner of the University of
Tennessee oversaw the Biogeochemical Educational
Experiences - South Africa (BEE-SA) administration, recruitment
and selection of students, working with mentors on the research and
lecture agenda, coordinating activities with the UOFS, Princeton
University and the mining companies, and participating as a faculty
mentor. Dr. Pfiffner is a Co-P.I. for the Witwatersrand Deep Microbiology Project and
participant in the 2000 U.S./S.A. Biotechnology workshop that helped
establish the 2001-2002 undergraduate workshops that led to the 2003-2004
Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Dr. Pfiffner has been an integral member of interdisciplinary
teams composed of academia, industry and national laboratory members
involved in the field investigations of deep subsurface microbiology
and bioremediation demonstrations. Her research interests include the microbial evaluation of
subsurface environments to determine which physiological types of
microorganisms, as well as, which metabolic or degradative
capabilities exist in sediments and groundwater from field sites. Her
National Science Foundation (NSF) Life in Extreme Environments (LExEn) funded research is targeted at determining
microbial community structure by cultivation of microorganisms under
different physiological conditions and by analyzing the environmental
samples for membrane lipids as a non-cultivation method. Her previous educational involvement has included organizing
and participating in SHared ADventures in Engineering and Science
(SHADES), Science-In Action workshops, the Women In Science conference
and mentoring 12 graduate and 5 undergraduate students.
L. Davis, P.E., also of
the University of Tennessee, assisted Dr. Pfiffner with the
coordination, travel arrangements, and administrative operations for
the REU. She currently serves Director of Programs and Outreach at the Institute
for a Secure and Sustainable Environment (ISSE), which works
closely with the UT Center
for Environmental Biotechnology. She is a chemical/environmental engineer with
20 years of
experience in cost analysis of treatment technologies, regulatory
compliance, contaminated site characterization and remedial action
feasibility studies. Since
1998, she has been chair of the ISSE Fellowship Program, which offers
graduate fellowships, undergraduate scholarships, and undergraduate
internships (totaling over $154,000 in the past six years).
Since 1994, she has mentored two graduate students on their
M.S. thesis research, and worked with five undergraduate and four
graduate students on research projects and internships. For the past several years, she has overseen the Tennessee
Society of Professional Engineers
(TSPE) regional program for awarding undergraduate scholarships to
high school seniors planning to major in engineering, and coordinated
the annual TSPE educational program Discover-E,
which sends volunteer engineers to talk to area middle school
students. She has also
participated for the past ten years in SHADES, a biannual hands-on
science workshop to mentor 12-13 year old girls and encourage them to
consider science and engineering careers.
van Heerden and Derek
Litthauer are from the University
of the Free State (UOFS) and served as mentors in the
2003-2004 REU. They have been mentors to numerous undergraduates
as well as graduate students during their tenure as faculty members,
and generally have two to six undergraduate researchers
working in the Biochemistry and Molecular laboratories. This has given undergraduates an opportunity to design and to
perform experiments, and to present the results of their research at
scientific meetings and in research publications. Most
students who have worked as undergraduate researchers in the labs are
continuing postgraduate studies mainly at UOFS or sometimes elsewhere
in South Africa and even some aboard. Currently, three undergraduate students are active in the labs
of which one will be using molecular techniques for characterization
of uncultivated microorganisms from various environments. She is extracting DNA, amplifying 16S rRNA genes by PCR and
cloning of these PCR products with the subsequent sequencing of these
products. The second
student is screening the deep subsurface samples for enzymatic
activity and trying to characterize the protein product's
stability and exploiting the possible biotechnological applications.
The third student is determining the levels of the expression
profile of various enzymes in microorganisms. These genes for some of these enzymes have been cloned by this
student and are currently being characterized. All undergraduate students are introduced to computer programs
and given the opportunity to develop and direct their research to suit
their interests. They
also have to present at least two seminars in the department with
external evaluation that is a great aid in the development of their
T.C. Onstott, of Princeton
University, is the senior PI overseeing the administration and field
operations of the NSF LExEn research project "Collaborative
Research: South African
Ultradeep Mines - Long-Term Sites for Interdisciplinary Studies (LSLIS)
into the Extreme Environment of the Deep Subsurface NSF"
Onstott also organized the first U.S./S.A. Biotechnology workshop in
2000, which led
to the organization of an education working group that had helped
forge the subsequent week-long workshops in 2001 and 2002. Dr. Onstott has been an integral member of
interdisciplinary teams composed of academia, industry and U.S.
Department of Energy (DOE)
national laboratory members involved in the field investigations of
deep subsurface microbiology and bioremediation demonstrations. His research interests focus on the origin and evolution of
subsurface microbial communities and how those communities change by
migration during groundwater flow. His NSF-LExEn funded research is focused on developments of
techniques to acquire representative, uncontaminated microbial and
geochemical samples of the deep subsurface sites exposed by mining
activities in South Africa, to characterize the aqueous organic and
inorganic geochemistry of these environments and to examine the
microbial community structure using flow cytometry and in situ
This year, Dr.
Onstott was included in Time Magazine's "Time 100" as one of the
and thinkers. The Time 100 is an annual list of the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world.
As a faculty
member at Princeton, Dr. Onstott has advised seven undergraduate students on
their junior projects and senior theses over the last six years.
The most recent student was Mike Hochman of the Ecology and
Environmental Biology Department whose senior thesis was on AA
case for biotic speleogenesis in a dolomite aquifer in South Africa.
Other senior undergraduates include Kevin Long who studied
enhanced advection of bacteria in porous media, and Justin Pavolich
who studied the preservation of Archaea in ancient halite crystals.
He also teaches a course in Environmental
and has taught undergraduates aqueous geochemistry by taking them to
contaminated groundwater sites undergoing microbial remediation and
shown them how to collect and analyze water samples for geochemistry.
Tommy Joe Phelps is a Senior Research scientist in the Environmental
Science Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge,
Tennessee. During the 2001-2002 undergraduate workshops and the
2003-2004 REU, Dr. Phelps
served as a faculty mentor, assisted in recruitment of
workshop participants, coordinated with other mentors to provide enriching
experiences for students, assisted in improving and
equipping the field lab, fabricated experimental
facilities (e.g., media making and gassing/flushing/evacuation
station), and provided field handy-person expertise. Dr. Phelps routinely mentors undergraduates, graduate students
and post-doctorates. Undergraduates
are typically from the DOE-undergraduate program. Dr. Phelps has advised and supported nine graduate students,
most through his academic appointment at UT. His former graduate students and nine post-MS and
post-doctorates are nearly equally divided among government, industry
and faculty positions.
provides no-cost assistance to NSF, as he is employed by ORNL, a
Federally Funded Research and Development Center that normally does
not seek NSF funding. His
no-cost assistance to past workshops (2000-2002) and the 2003-2004 REU draws
from three years of field experience for the NSF-Witwatersrand
Deep Microbiology Project, and his availability has been provided in part by the collaborative
spirit of DOE-Office of Science-OBER, by ORNL, and by personal leaves.
He donates time to serve on NSF panels including the U. S.
Science Advisory Committee (USSAC) for the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP)
as it transitions into the international Ocean Drilling Program (IODP).
Dr. Phelps also served on the ODP Deep biosphere planning group
and as a liaison to the Gas Hydrates planning groups (1996-2000).
Dr. Phelps has authored 100+ papers in basic and applied
aspects of microbiology related to subsurface or extreme environments.
He and Dr. Pfiffner and others received a 1996 R&D 100
Award for PHOster, a biostimulation process licensed by more than 30
bioremediation companies. Dr. Phelps has been awarded two patents with
others pending. Dr.
Phelps has been the PI for more than a dozen DOE-sponsored multi-year
projects in subsurface microbiology, bioremediation, carbon
sequestration, and gas hydrates research.
Tom Kieft of New Mexico
Institute of Mining Technology (New Mexico Tech) has been a mentor to
undergraduate as well as graduate students during his tenure as a
faculty member at New Mexico Tech. A major emphasis of his research in
environmental microbiology has been on the metabolic activities and
diversity of microorganisms in the terrestrial subsurface. He was a
funded investigator in the Department of Energy's Subsurface Science
Program and Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Program for over 15
years. He has been directly involved in research in the gold mines of
the Witwatersrand Basin since 1997 and he is an investigator on the NSF
LExEn project on South African Ultradeep Mines. He and his students use
culture-dependent and culture-independent, molecular biological
approaches to characterize deep subsurface microbial communities. He has
extensive field research experience in the mines of South Africa and has
been a mentor to undergraduate students during 2001-2002 workshops at the
University of the Free State and during the 2003-2004 REU. Kieft has also conducted research on the
physiology and ecology of microorganisms in other extreme environments,
including desert soils and thermal springs. Recently, Kieft and a New
Mexico Tech colleague, Dr.
Snezna Rogelj, have been developing nucleic acid- and antibody-based
techniques for detecting pathogens in environmental samples as part of a
project funded by the Office of Naval Research. He has published over 40
papers in environmental microbiology.
Dr. Alison Buchan is an Assistant Professor in the UT Department of Microbiology. She is a
microbial ecologist with broad interest in applying molecular tools and genetic approaches to microbial
communities and was recently awarded NSF funding to develop methods to measure
marine bacterial growth rates in situ. Dr. Buchan has a strong commitment to undergraduate training, especially of
underrepresented groups. Since arriving at UT she has mentored three undergraduate
students, including one minority female in graduate school and a visiting
student from a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Participation in this REU will compliment her early career as a research
mentor for undergraduate students and broaden her research program to include subsurface environs.
Dr. John Biggerstaff is a Research Associate Professor in UT CEB, the Biochemistry, Cellular and
Molecular Biology Department and the Microbiology Department. He is Director of the Bioimaging Unit. He
is skilled in the application of optical microscopy techniques to environmental and medical research
projects as documented by his international collaborations. Dr. Biggerstaff is active in teaching, regularly
supervises undergraduate and graduate students in the laboratory, and has experience in the design and
implementation of lecture based courses.
Dr. Rick Colwell is a microbial ecologist and professor of Marine Geology & Geophysics at Oregon
State University (40% teaching and 60% research). His research interests include developing strategies
for accurate estimation of in situ rates of microbial activities in the
subsurface, the importance of biogeochemical processes in carbon sequestration, the use of molecular methods for detecting microbes
in the environment, and investigating biological and abiological processes
that are coupled to each other.
Dr. Eric Roden of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) is a
geomicrobiologist with extensive experience in the physiology and ecology of anaerobic respiratory and chemolithotrophic microorganisms
in surface and subsurface sedimentary environments. He serves as a mentor to both undergraduate and
graduate students, and is currently participating in NSF-funded research (Biogeosciences program) that
involves both undergraduate and high-school students. He is also a participant in two different NASA
Astrobiology Institute projects (based at the University of California Berkeley and UW) that involve
participation of undergraduate students in studies of physiologically-unique organisms
relevant to the subject of the current proposal.
Dr. Melanie Eldridge of the UT CEB is a molecular biologist who has
worked on projects as varied as bat fecal DNA analysis, Fe effects on bacteria with community profiling techniques, and yeast-based
bioreporter construction. She has supervised the research of twelve undergraduates, leading to coauthored
publications, presentations at meetings (for which one received an award), and senior theses.
She has taught hundreds of undergraduates in laboratory and lecture classes. Her current research
involves genetically engineering yeast for the detection of androgenic chemicals.
Overview | Mentors
REU | 2002 Workshop