On April 29th, I received two awards from the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), the Arijit Guha Graduate Student Advocacy Award and Outstanding Research Award. GPSA is the official student government for all ASU graduate and professional students. The Advocacy Award is an award to the students who demonstrate excellence in their advocacy efforts to advance a particular cause. The Outstanding Research Award recognizes that I exemplify excellence in research and development at ASU.
I received the Arijit Guha Graduate Student Advocacy Award because of my service to the City of Tempe in the Fall semester, 2015. I, with four other students from the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, worked with the City of Tempe to create an Urban Forestry Master Plan. It is a community engagement and empowerment program that builds community buy-in and helps spread change without relying on additional city personnel. We designed a 10-week curriculum that includes five lectures and four tours. Lecturers and touring locations were suggested by the City of Tempe and ASU faculty.
The City of Tempe will hire a program manager to lead efforts review and interview applications. Twenty participants will be selected and required to pay a small enrollment fee. Participants must attend at least 15 hours to officially complete the program and will receive an Urban Forestry Master Plan Certificate. Upon completion, participant photos and names will be added to the program’s page on the City of Tempe’s website.
My research is broadly concerned with global phosphorus (P) sustainability issues. GPSA awarded me an Outstanding Research Award because my work demonstrated creativity and innovation as well as its benefits to the ASU campus, community, and society.
P is a finite resource that is universal and non-substitutable for all lives because it is fundamental to form DNA, important metabolic molecules (ATP), and bones. 90% of mined P goes into producing fertilizers to grow crops and 80% of fertilizer P is lost from soil to water, resulting in harmful algae blooms (eutrophication), such as in Lake Erie. This "wicked" double-edged problem results in a "We want it more! We want it no more!" dilemma regarding global food security and clean water resources. In addition, just a few countries in the world own about 90% of global P reserves, which contributes to an uncertain future for P fertilizer prices.
My research focuses on P recycling technologies and P-use efficiency in crops. The former includes struvites, ion-exchange chromatography, algal biofuel and many others. The latter includes precision agriculture, best practice managements, transgenic technologies, etc. My dissertation focuses on using biofuel algae as an alternative P fertilizer to grow transgenic P-use efficient crops. Here, I used transgenic lettuce because Arizona and California together produce 98% of the lettuce grown for the US. In addition, I compare the environmental impact of my proposed P-sustainable agriculture system to current agriculture systems using a method called life cycle assessment (LCA).
My interdisciplinary research requires wide collaboration among ASU campuses and helps bring experts throughout ASU together to solve P sustainability problems. For example, I received the transgenic lettuce seed from the School of Life Sciences, use LCA tools from Fulton Schools of Engineering, and obtained biofuel algae from the ASU Polytechnic Campus. Thus, in academia, my research is a window for scientists in different disciplines start looking into P sustainability issues. In society, my research serves as a prototype of future P-sustainable agricultural systems and my results may inform policy makers to adopt and transform current agriculture into a more P-sustainable system. This will help farmers purchase less P fertilizers (thus more income) to produce the same amount or even more food for a world with an increasing human population, as well as alleviate some major water pollution problems.
Recently, I was selected by the School of Sustainability Study Abroad Program to go to Morocco in 2016 May and was selected as Walton Global Sustainability Studies Scholar. I received a Walton Global Sustainability Studies Scholarship by the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives to support my trip to Morocco. Morocco has the biggest phosphate mine in the world and it owns 75% of the global reserve. This summer class will broaden my research horizons, enrich my thesis and, more importantly, connect me with the Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP) so that I may share my research ideas and results in the real world, as P fertilizer companies do not usually consider recycling P.
As I am writing this blog post, I am actually in the airplane on my way to Morocco. In this summer class, I will learn more about OCP’s attitudes toward recycling P. I am truly grateful that ASU provides so many opportunities for students to grow and learn!