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$500,000 Grant Funds Research into River Restoration and Elementary STEM Program

October 13, 2016

University of Idaho College of Engineering researchers received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how plants help streambeds clean pollutants and the impact of vegetation in river restoration. In addition, the grant will help the UI team to develop a STEM curriculum for fifth and sixth graders.

Civil engineering associate professor Daniele Tonina and Ralph Budwig, University of Idaho Boise engineering director and a mechanical engineering professor, will focus their research on hyporheic exchange, a process that affects the quality of streams as water goes in and out of river sediment, and the impact of algae and other plants on the process. The presence of vegetation in water channels is becoming a major tool in river restoration. Tonina and Budwig both work at UI Boise's Center for Ecohydraulics Research (CER). 

“Sediment in a stream acts like a water treatment plant,” Tonina said. “Quantifying this process is important because of its potential to influence greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The CER is the home of the Stream Laboratory, also known as the flume, one of the few indoors facilities in the world with a large-scale river model. The flume will allow the researchers to model water flows and their interactions with vegetation and sediments. The dimensions of the flume are large enough to conduct studies close to field conditions.

“By understanding the role of plants in how sediments clean the water pollutants, we can predict models to provide key information for river restoration practices in which planting vegetation has been advocated, a $1 billion per year industry,” Tonina said.

In addition to the research application to river restoration worldwide, the project includes an education component. A new after-school program will be developed to introduce Treasure Valley fifth and sixth graders to STEM disciplines through hands-on activities and lessons with a small-scale educational flume. Undergraduate and graduate civil engineering students will also be trained in engineering hydrology and water resources through national and international collaborations.

“The development of this novel after-school program for community center students, many of which are from underrepresented groups and potential first-generation college students, will broaden the impact of the project beyond academia,” Budwig said. “The educational goal of this project is to use research as a mechanism to have kids discover STEM disciplines as an important component of their lives; to provide a positive image of STEM disciplines; to instill a sense that higher education is attainable; and to provide a global research environment for young researchers.”

Media Contact: 
Maria Ortega
Marketing and Communications Manager, UI Boise

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at