Two faculty members awarded $138,000 in grants for science research


Two faculty members at Fairfield University were awarded more than $138,000 in federal grants for science research. The United States Department of Interior's Park Service awarded $76,871 to Dr. Randy Chambers, assistant professor of biology, to study how the dying-off of seagrass in Florida Bay near Miami is leading to the growth of dense algae and a catastrophic decline in the quality of the water that historically was exceptional.

The second grant of $62,000 was awarded to Dr. Nancy Haegel, associate professor of physics, by the National Science Foundation for research into the behavior of semiconductors. Fairfield University will provide $12,500 in matching grants to cover the cost of laboratory equipment and housing for two Fairfield students who will assist her during the 18 months of the project and will live on campus next summer. Adding to the prestige of the award, Dr. Haegel becomes one of the first recipients of a grant under the science foundation's new POWRE program - Professional Opportunities for Women in Research and Education.

Dr. Robert Wall, academic vice president, said these awards to Dr. Chambers and Dr. Haegel against rigorous competition demonstrate the quality of the Fairfield University faculty and serve as models for students and other faculty. "They are pushing the cutting edge of knowledge and simultaneously providing their students with the latest information in their field."

Dr. Chambers' research is also supported by Fairfield University's new program which offers pre-tenure faculty the opportunity to conduct research full-time for one semester.

Dr. Chambers' research will begin next spring and will continue for two years. He will be assisted during the next two summers by two Fairfield students whose services are also covered by the grant. Dr. Chambers plans to study how the presence of sulfur, iron and phosphorus in the sediment affect the seagrasses. Working at 15 sites in Florida Bay, he will test whether adding iron oxide to the water can enhance the ecosystem in locations where the seagrass die-off has reduced the quality of the water.

This change threatens the food chain for Florida Bay and may translate into fewer fish and birds and, as a result, fewer tourists.

Although there has been a heavy influx of people into southern Florida with an impact on water quality, Dr. Chambers said there is no current evidence that runoff from the land has contributed substantially to the declining water quality in Florida Bay and he will investigate other possible factors.

He previously received grants from the Connecticut Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and the from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to study the ecology of the wetlands of the Lower Housatonic River.

Dr. Chambers came to Fairfield in 1994 from San Francisco State University and has been conducting environmental research in the coastal watershed and wetlands of Long Island Sound.

Through her project, Dr. Haegel will again offer undergraduates the opportunity for research. In the past four years, 12 student have participated in research in the solid state laboratory and six have been authors or co-authors of papers or presentations. Dr. Haegel's previous research funded by the National Science Foundation from 1989-1995 focused on new semiconductor materials and the contacts that must be made to fully utilize these new materials in various applications. She also received a series of grants in 1994 from the Research Corporation based in Tucson, Ariz., the NATO Scientific Exchange Program and the European Space Agency.

Dr. Haegel came to Fairfield University in 1993 from UCLA and has been conducting research on semiconductor materials for use as infrared detectors with emphasis on their behavior at very low temperatures during use for satellite-based astronomy.

The POWRE program, which is funding her latest research, was created in recognition that women are under-represented in the science and engineering workforce. The POWRE program is designed to promote the development of leaders in research and education and women's prominence in science and engineering.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on December 1, 1997