Published: Sept. 19, 2023 By

George Aiken in the field, wearing a big backpack for carrying tall tubes.

George Aiken prepares for a day of fieldwork.

INSTAAR is pleased to announce four George R. Aiken Graduate Fellowships for 2023. CU Boulder graduate students Mackensie Bowen, Allison Cook, Tim Higgins, and Millie Spencer received the awards, which come with funding to support their research over the next year.

CU Boulder graduate students conducting water-related research are eligible for the fellowship. It was established to honor George Aiken, a distinguished organic biogeochemist who contributed significantly to our understanding of aquatic ecosystems during his 40-year career with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The fellowship aims to support collaborative research in water and earth science that contributes to the wise and sustainable management of Earth’s natural resources within the context of environmental change. Funds may be used to pay for research expenses.

Mackenzie Bowden, a PhD student in the Environmental Engineering program, is investigating contaminants from fires at the wildland-urban interface. These contaminants work their way into streams and watersheds, presenting risks to downstream communities and ecosystems. Yet few studies have begun to identify and quantify the individual compounds or traced them back to their source materials. Bowden will sample building materials of concern, such as treated lumber, asphalt roofing shingles, and PVC pipes. She will use her fellowship funds to perform chemical analyses on the samples after combusting them in a lab. The results will help assess the hazards posed by pyrogenic compounds in fresh water.

Allison Cook is a master’s degree student in the Environmental Engineering program. She is passionate about tracing and control of pathogens in the urban environment for stronger public health. Her research group is investigating the outfalls of stormwater sewers, where the built and natural environments intersect. The City of Boulder has noticed an increase in E. coli concentrations at locations in Boulder Creek. Cook will sample the stormwater system and sediments in the creek to identify the strains of E. coli that are infiltrating the creek, and see whether they are from mammal, human, or soil sources. The research could help the City mitigate the source of the E. coli.

Tim Higgins, a PhD candidate in the department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, is investigating the impacts of climate change on atmospheric rivers and extreme precipitation events that affect the western United States. He is using a unique regional climate data set from the Weather@Home project, and has applied a convolutional neural network to track atmospheric rivers within the data. He is also researching how atmospheric rivers and extreme events might be predicted more accurately farther in advance of when they happen. With his fellowship funds, Higgins will travel to the World Climate Research Program Open Science Conference in Kigali, Rwanda to present his research.

Millie Spencer is a PhD student in Geography, studying hydrology and glaciology through the lenses of traditional ecological knowledge and knowledge coproduction. She is part of a team of Mapuche, Chilean, and U.S. scientists that has received consent from several Mapuche-Pehuenche communities outside Temuco, Chile, to share scientific perspectives and community knowledge. Spencer will document the perspectives of community members who live in intimate proximity to Chile’s glaciers and hold community knowledge of the landscape dating back generations prior to colonization. She aims to document Mapuche knowledge of hydrological and climatic patterns and trends, greatly expanding upon current Western scientific knowledge of glacier change in the region. Her fellowship will provide funds for travel and lodging while conducting her work in Chile.

The Aiken Graduate Fellowships are made possible by Ellen Aiken and many other donors. The new Fellows will be recognized at the CU Boulder Hydrologic Symposium in spring 2024.