May 4, 2005

Research team brings science skills to real-world problems

One-stop shopping for environmental expertise is the goal of a group of Sacramento State scientists from a variety of disciplines.

The Center for Regional Environmental Science and Technology, or CREST, brings together 17 scientists from the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Environmental Studies, Geography, Geology and Mathematics to apply their collective research expertise to real-world scientific problems, especially in areas like water quality, air quality and eecology.

"These are important issues in Sacramento, where rapid growth is impinging on the environment," says chemistry professor and CREST director Susan Crawford. "The research areas are far too complex for one scientist. Environmental projects require teams."

Established earlier this year within the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, CREST is so new it doesn't yet have facilities, staff or even a budgets members are still searching for permanent lab space for the center. Yet Meanwhile, they're CREST faculty members are already performing research for project sponsors using their own facilities and resources.

Crawford is the principal a researcher on a project for the U.S. Geological Survey to determine the source of organic compounds found in water from the Delta that produce chloroform, a toxic byproduct, when the water is chlorinated for drinking. In a separate CREST project, also funded by USGS, Crawford is testing various methods for removing the compounds prior to chlorination.

In another CREST project nearing completion, Crawford is helping engineers at the Office of Water Projects, a unit of University Enterprises, test a method for removing contaminants from stormwater run-off. as it flows through campus storm drains into the American River and nearby streams.

Meanwhile, biologistBiologist Ron Coleman and geologist Tim Horner, who serve on CREST's steering committee with Crawford and environmental scientist Ed Martinez, are conducting research for the Sacramento Water Forum and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on various aspects of salmon spawning in the American River. The river's salmon are also the focus of a Water Forum-sponsored project Coleman and biochemist Linda Roberts recently started to examine the biochemistry of salmon reproduction.

Crawford says Sacramento State is well-positioned within the Capital Region to perform multidisciplinary applied research. "By looking at applied research problems, I found there is non-traditional funding from government agencies and local industry that larger traditional research universities are less interested in going after."

Crawford says CREST has several advantages in this market. "As part of a university, we're typically seen as neutral. We don't have a particular bias that some private-sector vendors may be perceived to have. Plus, where else are you going to find a team of 10 PhDs who can think about a research topic?

"The environment is a complicated, fragile system and the science of it is very intricate, often involving several scientific disciplines. In order to study environmental issues, you have to do very careful science," Crawford says.
At the same time, CREST projects give student assistants the opportunity to work alongside faculty on real-world problems. "That's a big CREST goal," says Crawford. "We want to train students to be able to work effectively in the local community when they graduate."

Ultimately Crawford sees CREST as one way for the University to build its research infrastructure. She'd like to see a proposed new science building include laboratory facilities large enough to be shared by CREST and other research centers such as the Molecular Biology Interdisciplinary Group.

For more information, visit the CREST website at www.csus.edu/bios/CREST/CREST.html.

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