Professor's work on reducing soil evaporation earns prestigious NSF CAREER award
Monday, March 6, 2017
MANHATTAN — A Kansas State University engineer is being recognized by the National Science Foundation as an up-and-coming researcher for her work with water conservation.
Melanie Derby, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is the recipient of a $500,000 grant from the NSF's Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, Program for her project "Altering Transient Soil Evaporation Mechanisms through Hydrophobicity."
Her project investigates mixing water-repellent particles with soil in order to reduce evaporation rates.
"Water is required to meet growing global food and energy needs," Derby said, "and with decreasing Ogallala Aquifer levels, this is a timely problem relevant to the state of Kansas."
Initial experiments will first study evaporation from small soil pores and progressively move to large soil samples in controlled laboratory tests.
"Reducing irrigation by only 0.5 inches on the irrigated farmland in Kansas would conserve 20 billion gallons of water annually," Derby said.
As part of the educational component of the CAREER grant, Derby will introduce a graduate-level course on heat and mass transfer in the food/energy/water nexus and engage high school girls in hypothesis-driven experiments regarding evaporation from porous media with bread baking as an example.
"We encourage our young faculty members to be ambitious in applying for research funding," said Bill Dunn, department head of mechanical and nuclear engineering. "I am extremely proud of Dr. Melanie Derby and her recognition as a CAREER recipient from the National Science Foundation. These awards carry a distinction that is recognized nationally."
The NSF's CAREER Program is one of its most prestigious awards for supporting early career faculty who effectively integrate research and education within the context of their institution's mission. Faculty recognition and awards are an important part of Kansas State University's plan to become a Top 50 public research university by 2025.