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Sustainability in Space

Posted on January 17th, 2020

by Margot Dick

Of the 14 graduate students selected to receive the 2019 NASA Fellowship Award from the NASA Iowa Space Grant Consortium fellowship program, nine are from the University of Iowa and two are from IIHR. Hannah Molitor and Claire Muerdter are both graduate research assistants at IIHR, working with Jerry Schnoor and Greg LeFevre respectively.

Claire Muerdter head shot

Claire Muerdter’s dedication to biology has helped her win the NASA Fellowship Award twice.

Muerdter works with plants to determine which ones help remove toxins like neonicotinoids in the environment. Her grant proposal, titled “Pollution Processing by Vegetation: Protecting Water, Food, and Environmental Quality,” considers the benefits of plants that produce food or remove waste from their environment during space travel.

Molitor’s proposal, “Microalgae as a Nutritious Cattle Feed Supplement to Sequester Carbon Dioxide and Recover Nutrients from Wastewater,” describes her work to determine the viability of microalgae as a sustainable form of cattle feed.

Hannah Molitor head shot

Hannah Molitor splits her time between her studies and research.

“Part of growing sustainable microalgae, is looking at the wastes we can use as a resource … using waste to create something useful,” Molitor says.

Muerdter says she was particularly excited to receive the grant because she previously received support from Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium. As an undergraduate, Muerdter was a biology student with a focus in ecology and evolution at the University of Washington-Seattle. She says she feels honored to continue her graduate work under the grant.

“Space Grant’s support of me as an undergrad enabled me to have really incredible research experiences, which built my passion and my resume, and helped me eventually get here.”

After graduation, both plan to continue on in research, but not necessarily in the same way. Molitor plans to continue in academia and would like to become a professor and researcher while Muerdter says she tried her hand at teaching, but would rather put her entire focus on research, either at a national lab or a university.

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