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This summer, Peter Regier was the first PhD candidate within the CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment (CAChE) at Florida International University to successfully defend and complete his PhD. Regier was one of 9 students in the Center’s graduate cohort. He is the first of many students funded by the CREST CAChE program in hopes of collecting much-needed data to fill gaps within the field of aquatic chemistry and developing cutting-edge technologies to facilitate further research.

Regier’s thesis focused on the Everglades and how dissolved organic matter (DOM) is affected by changing water dynamics. DOM is essential to a healthy aquatic ecosystem and plays an important role in water systems’ nutrient supplies, metal toxicity levels and physical characteristics, like the color of the water itself. However, very little is still known about the relationship between water and DOM. Regier’s research fills in some of these gaps, specifically regarding the Florida Everglades. Understanding how changing water conditions drive Everglade DOM dynamics can allow decision-makers to improve water management solutions in the area.

Regier joined FIU in 2013 to work in the field of aquatic chemistry with FIU Chemistry Professor Rudolf Jaffe. After working as Regier’s advisor and mentor, Jaffe recognized the connection between Regier’s developing doctoral work and the Center’s focus on aquatic chemistry and environmental contaminants. Regier was accepted into the Center’s first cohort of PhD candidates and, with its funding support, began the research that would inform his dissertation.

Since earning his PhD, Regier has moved forward with several water-related projects.

Regier applied for and was granted the NSF-funded Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrological Science, Inc. (CUAHSI) Pathfinder Fellowship. He is one of only 14 individuals across the country this year to be granted the prestigious award. The Pathfinder fellowship provides $5000 travel grants to researchers who hope to enrich their research by adding a new field location to their study. In Regier’s case, he is traveling to Alaska to compare DOM characteristics in the region’s permafrost.

After his summer research opportunity in Alaska comes to a close, Regier will spend the next 2 years working on another CREST opportunity: a post-doctoral fellowship in New Mexico. He will be working with sensor technology to collect data at different spots on the Rio Grande River to measure changes in the River’s nutrient composition. Ultimately, Regier hopes to be able to use this data to more accurately inform the local community and regional decision-makers about the quality of the Rio Grande’s water.

“It’s about getting people more involved with their River,” he said. “We drive past rivers all the time and don’t even think about it, but you go to a seminar and learn more about these rivers, and suddenly you think about it!”

Thanks to National Science Foundation (NSF) support, CREST CAChE is able to continue driving important student research like Regier’s, and contribute to filling the information gaps in the field of aquatic chemistry.

“We are continuing to increase our student support each semester, and we’re always on the lookout for other qualified students,” says Brad Schonhoff, Program Manager for CREST CAChE.

CREST CAChE is a NSF-funded Center of Research Excellence in Science and Technology within the FIU Institute of Water and Environment. There are currently over twenty PhD participants engaged in CREST CAChE, all working on a variety of studies that address the sources, transport, transformation and impacts of environmental contamination.