Institutes of Energy and the Environment seed grant recipients announced

Whitney Lloyd
August 04, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The 2017 Institutes for Energy and the Environment (IEE) seed grants have been awarded to a pool of interdisciplinary researchers at Penn State. Thirteen grants totaling more than $312,000 have been awarded to 42 researchers that addressed four of IEE's five research themes: Climate and Ecosystem Change, Future Energy Supply, Smart Energy Systems, and Water and Biogeochemical Cycles.

The fifth theme — Health and the Environment — had a separate call for proposals, the recipients of which were recently announced.

IEE established the Seed Grant Program three years ago to foster basic and applied research focused on these strategic research themes. Since then, IEE has awarded more than $1.5 million, funding 70 projects with collaborators from 15 of Penn State’s colleges and campuses. As of 2015, this program has helped Penn State researchers secure more than $4 million in externally funded grants with 50 scholarly publications.

"This year the Institutes of Energy and the Environment are pleased to support an outstanding group of seed grant proposals,” said Tom Richard, director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment and a professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

The 2017 projects — along with their principal investigators and affiliated colleges — that were awarded seed grants are:

  • “Biogenic Manganese Oxides for the Removal of Emerging Contaminants from Wastewater”

William Burgos, College of Engineering; Franklin Dorman, Eberly College of Science; and Terry Kreiser, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

  • “Biogeochemical, Isotopic, and Paleo-Metagenomic Interrogation of Ecosystem Change in Southwestern Madagascar”

George Perry and Douglas Kennett, Eberly College of Science; Katherine Freeman, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and Brendan Culleton, Institutes of Energy and the Environment

  • “Ecological Migration in a Large-Scale Quasi-Experiment Design in China: Implications of Climate Change, Landscape Structure, Ecosystem Services and Government Intervention”

Guangqing Chi and Brian Thiede, College of Agricultural Sciences; Zhen Lei and Erica Smithwick, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and JunJun Yin, Social Science Research Institute

  • “Feeding 11 Billion: The Biosynthesis of High-Quality Protein from Wastewater”

Rachel Brennan, College of Engineering; and Joshua D. Lambert, College of Agricultural Sciences

  • “Invisible or White, but Always Bright”

Armen Kemanian and Felipe Montes, College of Agricultural Sciences; Roman Engel-Herbert, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and Zhiwen Liu, College of Engineering

  • “Karst and Coastal Ecosystems”

Jennifer Macalady, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and Monica Medina, Eberly College of Science

  • “Optimizing the Conversion of Salinity Gradient Energy into Electrical Power through Computational Simulations”

Christopher Gorski, College of the Engineering; and Ismaila Dabo, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

  • “Re-conceptualizing Impact Analysis of the Food-Energy-Water Nexus: Evaluating the Proposed Ethane Plant in Beaver County, PA”

Jennifer Baka, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and Kathryn Brasier, College of Agricultural Sciences

  • “Removing Radium from Hydrofracturing Fluids with Tailored Clays”

Nathaniel Warner, Fred Cannon, Marek Flaska and Amanda Johnsen, College of Engineering; and Sridhar Komarneni, College of Agricultural Sciences

  • “Riparian Bird Feathers as Indicators of Shale-gas Development”

Margaret Brittingham, College of Agricultural Sciences; Matthew Fantle, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and Nathaniel Warner, College of Engineering

  • “Smart traction systems for weak power grids”

Seth Blumsack and Chiara Lo Prete, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and Nilanjan Ray Chaudhuri, College and Engineering

  • “Social Adaptive Capacity in Reef-Proximate Communities: Coupled Natural-Human System Dynamics in Cartagena, Colombia”

Carter Hunt, College of Health and Human Development; Leland Glenna, College of Agricultural Sciences; Roberto Iglesias-Prieto, Monica Medina and Frederic Pollock, Eberly College of Science

  • “Toward a Lower-carbon Food System: Quantification of Methane Emissions from Animal Agriculture”

Alexander Hristov, Robert Meinen and Tara Felix, College of Agricultural Sciences; and Kenneth Davis, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

The research teams will address complex challenges that require interdisciplinary expertise from across the University.

“The seed grant program is an outstanding resource for helping to develop new collaborative research teams across numerous disciplines, for obtaining preliminary research information in new field sites, and ultimately for improving the ability of faculty to secure funding from highly competitive external grant programs,” said Carter Hunt, assistant professor of recreation, park, and tourism management and a 2017 seed grant recipient. 

“These projects exemplify the data-knowledge-impact synergies we strive for in IEE, so that our research results in positive benefits for communities here in Pennsylvania and around the globe," said Richard.

For more information about the seed grant program or the Institutes of Energy and the Environment, visit or email

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Last Updated September 27, 2019