Diane McKnight, professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering and a fellow of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering on Feb. 9. She joins 16 other faculty from CU-Boulder who have been elected since the academy’s formation in 1962.
Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded an engineer. McKnight’s research expertise is in the interactions between freshwater biota, trace metals, and natural organic material in diverse freshwater environments, including lakes and streams in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica.
In the Rocky Mountains, she has focused on the impact of metal contamination in acid mine drainage streams and the influence of climate change and nitrogen deposition on alpine lakes and wetlands. McKnight has interacted with many state and local groups involved in mine drainage and watershed issues in the region.
McKnight has been working in Antarctica since 1987, and is a leading investigator studying extreme life at the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research site funded by the National Science Foundation. In the harsh polar environment, stream channels flow only a few weeks out of the year and the only life forms inhabiting the area are microorganisms, mosses, lichens and a few groups of invertebrates.
She wrote and published a children’s book, “The Lost Seal,” in 2006, that tells the true story of a wayward seal discovered near the research camp in 1990 and its eventual rescue. The story gives children an understanding of Antarctica’s extreme environment and the work of scientists there.
She earned three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Research Program for 17 years before she came to CU-Boulder.