Schaefer, professor Jessica Ernakovich both receive funding to use DOE facilities

Monday, October 16, 2023
Male student in greenhouse holds a plant. His t-shirt says UNH Graduate School.

UNH Ph.D. student Sean Schaefer, recipient of a prestigious Department of Energy grant.

Sean Schaefer, a Ph.D. student in UNH’s Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science program, was selected for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) prestigious Graduate Student Research Program. Schaefer, who studies microbial ecology in the Arctic with associate professor of natural resources and the environment Jessica Ernakovich, was one of just 60 graduate students nationwide to receive this honor. The program provides supplemental funds for graduate students to conduct part of their thesis research at a host DOE laboratory in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist.

“This award is huge for me because it will greatly improve the quality of my research and the efficiency with which it is done.”

Schaefer will pursue research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California in collaboration with LLNL staff scientist Steven Blazewicz.

“This award is huge for me because it will greatly improve the quality of my research and the efficiency with which it is done,” says Schaefer. “I will have access to state-of-the-art facilities and mentorship in generating and processing complex bioinformatics and isotopic datasets.

Schaefer’s research explores how plants in the tundra harbor different microbial communities in their roots, and what those microbial communities mean for soil carbon cycles. The tundra is undergoing massive changes in its plant landscape due to rising temperatures and CO2 levels, and those changes could potentially exacerbate or mitigate the effects of climate change, he says.

Schaefer calls the honor a unique opportunity that will advance his scientific career.

“DOE and government labs are a great space for scientific research that is separate from academia and I am looking forward to soaking up all the knowledge I can and increasing my network,” he says.

Headshot of UNH professor Jessica Ernakovich
Jessica Ernakovich.

In related Department of Energy news, Ernakovich recently received a FICUS (Facilities Integrating Collaborations for User Science) grant to study to how plants and microbial activity influence permafrost soil carbon balance, with an eye toward understanding biogeochemical processes in a warming and thawing Arctic. She will conduct research at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the DoE’s Pacific Northwest National Lab in Washington State; UNH professor of natural resources Stuart Grandy, staff scientist Hannah Holland-Moritz and Schaefer will collaborate on that project.