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A soil scientist, an air pollution expert, and a sociolegal studies scholar are the newest Atkinson postdoctoral fellows. These early-career scholars will begin two-year appointments in 2016, joining four Atkinson postdocs already at work on campus. 

ACSF Welcomes Three New Atkinson Postdocs

February 9, 2016

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A soil scientist, an air pollution expert, and a sociolegal studies scholar are the newest Atkinson postdoctoral fellows. These early-career scholars will begin two-year appointments in 2016, joining four Atkinson postdocs already at work on campus. ACSF launched the new postdoctoral funding program in 2015.

The Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellowships in Sustainability address pressing world needs in ACSF’s core research areas. A unique feature of the program is that the fellows link their research at Cornell, advised by ACSF faculty advisers, with nonacademic partners to advance on-the-ground application of the sustainable solutions they develop. Partner organizations this year include biotech company Symbiota, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Atkinson postdoctoral program selects two to four new fellows each year. Watch for the next call for proposals later this spring.

Terrence Bell

Terrence Bell, PhD ’13, McGill University

Microorganisms in soil can boost plant growth, helping plants process nutrients, fight off diseases, and more. Unfortunately, inoculating soils with isolated growth-enhancing microbes has a limited impact on crop yields, since native soil microbes often outcompete the added microbes. A method for transferring microbiomes—complete microbial communities—could be a real-world solution to increasing food production while reducing chemical fertilizer use. Working with Jenny Kao-Kniffin and Symbiota, Terrence Bell will apply a new technique developed at Cornell to Brassica plants, fine-tuning microbiomes across many generations to promote both plant growth and salt tolerance. If adding salt to agricultural soils gives the selected microbiomes a competitive advantage over native microbes, the project will provide proof-of-concept for microbiome transfer—and a potential road to biotech commercialization.

Zoe Chafe

Zoë Chafe, PhD ’16, University of California–Berkeley

Local air quality goals and global climate change policy could be on a collision course. Burning wood and other solid fuels for home heating pollutes the air with particles and gases that harm human health and accelerate climate change, yet many national and international climate policies—and local constituencies—support biomass over fossil fuels. Residential wood burning is currently on the rise in Europe and the United States. Uniting climate science, public policy, and communication, Zoë Chafe will team up with Peter Hess and San Francisco’s air pollution regulatory agency, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, to measure the pollution and climate change effects of household heating fuels and seek strategies to balance the inevitable trade-offs among energy use, the environment, and human health.

Mary Mitchell

Mary Mitchell, PhD ’16, University of Pennsylvania

Nuclear contamination is a locally arising harm—but the devastation crosses national borders. With nuclear power providing more than 10 percent of the world’s electricity and dozens of new reactors on the drawing board, nuclear accidents pose an increasing threat to our environment and human health. Working with Annelise Riles and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nuclear policy program, attorney and historian of science Mary Mitchell will investigate the transnational legal regimes governing nuclear energy risk and liability, from the 1950s through the recent Fukushima accident. Her book manuscript, Unnatural Disasters, will reveal how a particular vision of sustainability has been promoted in international nuclear regulatory bodies—even in the wake of major disasters—and suggest timely transnational reforms.