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Grad Students Earn Awards to Research Climate Change, Public Health

JULY 23, 2015 — The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) are pleased to announce funding awards for three University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate students researching the impacts of climate change on public health.

The 2014-15 Warren Lavey and Dr. Holly Rosencranz Research Awards in Climate Change and Public Health — $3,000 apiece — were allotted to:

    • Surendra Karki, Pathobiology;
    • Nora Sadik, Civil and Environmental Engineering; and
    • Erin Welsh, Integrative Biology.

“We hope that our grant program will raise awareness of, and promote solutions to, the threats of climate change to public health,” Lavey and Rosencranz said in a joint statement. “This year’s winners will research the impacts of climate change on insect-borne diseases and water quality in the United States, Uganda, and Panama.”

Karki will work with Marilyn O’Hara Ruiz, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the GIS and Spatial Analysis Lab in the U of I Department of Pathobiology, and Nancy Westcott, Research Atmospheric Scientist at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center in the Illinois State Water Survey. His research will explore the impact of extreme weather events on the risk from the West Nile virus in South Cook County, Illinois. Specifically, he will examine and model the relationship between mosquito abundance and temperature and rainfall by comparing averages, then by the effects of extreme rainfall events and increased temperatures.

Sadik — who will work with Illinois CEE Professor Helen Than Nguyen, Illinois Microbiology Professor Joanna Shisler and Makerere University (Uganda) Agricultural and Bio-Systems Engineering Professor Noble Banadda — is researching climate change, water ecology, and public health in urban Kampala, Uganda. In particular, the research will examine extreme weather effects on clean drinking water supplies as well as water for agriculture.

Welsh will work with Illinois Entomology Professor Brian Allan and Dr. Jose Loaiza of INDICASAT in Panama. She is investigating tick-borne disease transmission with expected continued climate change in Central Panama. The research will integrate field surveys, tick survival enclosures, and genomic analyses to address how climate conditions shape the ecology of ticks and their accompanying bacteria.

The call for proposals for the Lavey Rosencranz Awards sought applications not only from students in the physical, biological, medical sciences and engineering, but also from students in social sciences, education, social work, humanities, and other realms that can help raise public awareness about climate change and its consequences for human health.

Lavey, an Adjunct Professor of Law and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at Illinois, and Rosencranz, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, have long been concerned with public health issues.

“Importantly, the grantees will disseminate their findings through publications and presentations on this campus, to professionals in their fields, and to the public,” they said. “We are happy to support these impressive Illinois students.”

Click here to read more about Karki, Sadik, and Welsh.