Veronika Kivenson FP’13, a Ph.D. student in marine science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, recently was awarded a three-year Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Her application was one of more than 14,000 submitted for the 2014 competition.
Kivenson researches how microbes can render toxic substances less dangerous to humans. She’s part of a team examining a never-before-studied site in the San Pedro Basin where toxic waste had been dumped. The site, Kivenson explains, provides a natural laboratory in which to learn how certain microbes turn poisons back into nontoxic elements.
During a 2013 expedition aboard the research vessel Atlantis, Kivenson was part of a research team using an underwater robot to locate waste barrels on the ocean floor.
“We observed thick microbial mats growing on some of those barrels, and also observed distinctive formations, which appeared to be rings of microbial growth,” she says. “With the help a remotely operated vehicle, we collected samples of the mats, pieces of the barrels, and sediment cores.”
Back in the lab, Kivenson has been using those samples to determine which microbes are present and how they may contribute to biodegradation of the site’s waste. She’s grateful for the many ways that Mount Holyoke led her there.
“It’s difficult to sum up how influential those years were for me,” says Kivenson. “I had several professors who provided tremendously helpful encouragement and support. I keep in touch regularly with some of them. I also met students who became incredibly close friends and motivated me to pursue my interests in marine science.”
Looking ahead, Kivenson hopes to continue her research on contaminants in the marine ecosystem, as well as examining the chemical and biological characteristics of deep-sea waste dump sites.
“I feel honored to receive the NSF Fellowship. The research is fascinating and I appreciate being able to do such meaningful work.”
—By Michelle Ducharme