Environmental Systems doctoral student Stefanie Helmrich was awarded the Delta Science Fellowship, becoming UC Merced’s first recipient of the prestigious award.
Helmrich received one of nine fellowships awarded this year by the state’s Delta Stewardship Council. The award provides Helmrich with about $150,000 in funding to cover two years of research funding and student stipend support, with additional funds for tuition and travel expenses. The California Sea Grant program administers and manages the fellowships on behalf of the Delta Stewardship Council and Delta Science Program.
The Delta Science Fellowship program was established to provide graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with support to pursue research on topics relevant to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Fellowships are awarded on the basis of the intellectual merit of the application and the applicant’s expected contributions to knowledge that will advance the understanding of delta environments and water systems. The research is expected to aid policymakers and resource managers concerned with water issues in California.
Working under the supervision of Professor Peggy O’Day and community mentor Charles Alpers, a research chemist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Helmrich is developing a computational model to study methylmercury — the most toxic form of mercury — and how it forms in aquatic environments and makes its way from sediment to water.
“Methylmercury is a contaminant in many water bodies and wetlands in California, the United States and around the world,” Helmrich said. “My research is part of the efforts to reduce concentrations by managing lakes, reservoirs and wetlands. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to have a good understanding of these systems and develop computer models that can predict the outcome of management strategies.”