Devan Nisson receives 2021 Walbridge Fund Research Award

Written by
Morgan Kelly
July 15, 2021
Morgan Kelly, High Meadows Environmental Institute, July 15, 2021

The High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) has selected 11 Princeton University graduate students as 2021 recipients of the Walbridge Fund Graduate Award for Environmental Research. The awardees are Maria Curria, Ipsita Dey, Yuki Haba, Shannon Hoffman, Xiaohan Li, Sayumi Miyano, José Montaño López, Devan Nisson, Don Noh, Michael Soskind, and Einara Zahn. They represent the departments of civil and environmental engineering, anthropology, ecology and evolutionary biology, chemical and biological engineering, politics, geosciences, economics, and electrical and computer engineering.

These most recent awardees will explore environmental topics such as an efficient, low-cost material for capturing carbon emissions at the source; how the “sacred ecology” of Indo-Fijians is being repurposed to revive Fiji’s sugar industry; the effect of climate change on the range of the northern house mosquito and the diseases it carries, including West Nile Virus; the use of light to control the production of proteins for manufacturing meat and dairy alternatives; the response of black carbon particles to atmospheric moisture over time; the influence of institutional relationships on the energy and climate forecasts of international organizations; the expression of specific yeast genes to enable the industrial-scale production of a key biofuel; the characterization of microbial communities in high-temperature subsurface brine environments; the development of a supply-and-demand model for the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) commodities market; the adaptation of a mobile laser-based detection system for detecting trace amounts of methane in urban-like environments; and the mechanisms by which plants contribute water to the atmosphere and balance carbon dioxide input/output across different ecosystems.

In its 13th year, the Walbridge Award program provides up to $10,000 in research funding to Princeton Ph.D. candidates pursuing innovative research on climate science, energy solutions, environmental policy or, more broadly, on other environmental topics. With the latest awards, nearly 60 Princeton graduate students have received research support from the program.

Description of Devan's project

“Abiotic Organic Chemistry in an Ancient Hypersaline Brine: Evaluating Bioenergetic Support for Microbial Life Inhabiting 3.2km-deep Fracture Fluid in South Africa”

Adviser: Tullis Onstott, Professor of Geosciences

Nisson will analyze organic carbon and DNA discovered nearly two miles underground in a South African mine to conduct a taxonomic and metabolic characterization of microbial communities in a high-temperature, hypersaline subsurface brine environment. Her work could provide insight into the geochemistry and microbiology of environments such as Mars that contain abiotically produced organic matter, but host very few living organisms.