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Three UConn students win EPA fellowships (Released: 9/26/95)

by Renu Sehgal, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Three University of Connecticut graduate students have been awarded fellowships in science and technology by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the 1995-96 academic year.

Cheryl L. Craddock of Mansfield, Kristofer R. Rolfhus of Norwich and Paul Z. Goldstein of Bryn Mawr, Pa., were among 100 chosen from 2,500 applicants at 59 universities throughout the United States.

The recipients went through a rigorous competition in which their academic records, graduate degree programs, research plans, recommendations from faculty advisors and mentors, and career objectives and goals were evaluated by the EPA with help from outside panels of scientists, mathematicians, socioeconomists and engineers.

The fellowships, administered by the EPA's Office of Research and Development, will provide up to $34,000 per student to cover tuition and other expenses.

''By any measure, the 100 finalists truly are the cream of the crop,'' EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner said. ''We are intent upon enriching the science and technology base for environmental protection. We look forward to working with the University of Connecticut to develop a new generation of scientists and engineers, well-trained in critical disciplines and highly motivated to solve increasingly complex environmental problems.''

Craddock, 24, originally from Las Cruces, N.M., is in her second year in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology working on her Ph.D. She proposed studying how weeds travel as part of conserving native plants.

''Most of the emphasis in conservation has been on endangered species,'' she said. ''But common plants have been neglected. A lot of weeds are exotics and come from other countries. They displace plants native to this country.''

Rolfhus, who is in the Department of Marine Sciences at the Avery Point campus in Groton, is studying the transformation of mercury in fresh and salt waters. Mercury, when it is transported by precipitation to bodies of water, is converted by both biological organisms and chemical reactions in the environment. It can either become a gas that evades back into the atmosphere or it can convert into a toxic form known as methyl mercury that accumulates in organisms in the water. Rolfhus is looking at how mercury is transformed into gas, which can travel to other parts of the world before going back into the water.

''They're finding high levels of mercury in fish and other biological organisms in places where there is no significant source of it,'' Rolfhus said.

Goldstein, 28, also a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is going to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships among a group of wetlands moths. Many of these species are protected as endangered and rare in New England. Goldstein will be looking for common patterns that could make an organism susceptible to extinction. He will also be trying to find markers to identify the species. The results of his work will help biologists and wildlife managers to make judgments about conservation attempts.

''If we can understand how extinction works, we can be more efficient at conservation,'' he said.

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