Campus News Society & Culture

SREL to offer first undergraduate program in radioecology

Students have a deadline of April 15 to apply

Aiken, S.C. – The University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory recently received a three-year National Science Foundation grant to establish the only program in the world to offer training in radioecology at the undergraduate level. The program will serve as a foundation for students pursuing careers in nuclear accident response or nuclear energy production.

The 10-week summer program will provide 10 students a year with unprecedented access to SREL laboratories, where they will study the transport, fate and effects of radioactive elements in the environment and on wildlife-areas crucial to the nation’s ability to address emerging issues of nuclear energy production, national security and nuclear contaminants.

“These students will participate in interactive workshops and seminars on radioecology and get hands-on experience in the field and in the lab,” said J. Vaun McArthur, a senior research ecologist at SREL and principal investigator on the grant.

Some of the students will analyze tissue samples of feral hogs and game birds in the lab to measure levels of radiation over time. Other students will use animal handling and live-trapping techniques to capture alligators for measurement and blood samples. Oral and poster presentations will give all students the opportunity to develop communication skills and present their research.

Enrichment activities will be a significant part of the program. Students will gain knowledge of the history of the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site and tour the historical and research areas of the SRS, including nuclear facilities.

Some of the earliest work in radioecology in the U.S. was done at SREL, on the Savannah River Site, and the lab is home to the only facility in the world designed to replicate and evaluate the distribution of low doses of radiation on aquatic organisms. The lab is also known internationally for its research with the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The research experience for undergraduate program, or REU-radioecology, “will be an unprecedented research opportunity-unlike anything else they could get in the U.S,” said SREL director Olin Rhodes.

“I am very glad NSF has chosen to provide us with the unique support in an area of ecology where training is so critically needed. We view this as a first step in the pipeline for establishing a graduate program in radioecology in the U.S.,” Rhodes said.

Melissa Pilgrim, director of research at University of South Carolina Upstate and an alumnus of SREL, serves as co-principal investigator on the grant and was instrumental in the lab receiving the award. The University of South Carolina Aiken is also a partner on the grant.

The grant will provide a weekly stipend, housing and a food allowance. The summer program dates for 2015 are May 18 to July 31. For more information and to apply, see The application is due April 15.