Elias Zegeye uses an LTQ Mass Spectrometer at a PNNL laboratory.
Elias Zegeye uses an LTQ Mass Spectrometer at PNNL in Aaron Wright’s laboratory.

Elias Zegeye, a chemical engineering PhD student in the joint Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)-Washington State University (WSU) Distinguished Graduate Research Program (DGRP), has a vision for research that could make a difference.

Zegeye’s research focuses on how soil nutritional and physical environments shape soil microbiomes – the interactive microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi that are associated with soil and plants. He is working on developing predictive tools that could assist in better understanding the ecological functions of soil microbials under varying conditions.

The research has the potential to be very useful for farmers in addressing soil management and improving crop production and yields now and in the decades ahead. The importance of Zegeye’s research was recently highlighted by the Department of Energy and featured online by the American Society of Microbiology. The predictive model will reduce complexity in studying the soil microbes and assist in better understanding the ecological mechanisms and functions that impact soil health, sustainability, and yield potential.

Zegeye works with and is advised by Aaron Wright, a scientist based at PNNL who helps to guide, mentor, and share research expertise with Zegeye. Wright is also an adjunct research professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering.

“WSU-PNNL joint-appointees are distinguished scientists in their expertise and devote extensive time and attention on the progress of student’s research,” says Zegeye. “Moreover, the WSU-PNNL joint-appointee helps to maximize the potential, knowledge and experience of students by providing independent research for the student. Additionally, they help students to collaborate and get mentorship from other senior scientists at PNNL, which is important for the student to broaden their research and project understanding from different scientific viewpoints.”

A group of current DGRP students at the 2019 DGRP Cohort Announcement
A group of current DGRP students at the 2019 DGRP Cohort Announcement

The DGRP recently announced its call for applications for its fourth student cohort. DGRP students complete their coursework and preliminary exam at a WSU campus. After this point, students transfer to PNNL’s Tri-Cities campus. The application process is undertaken by interested co-advisors at WSU and PNNL who submit a joint-DGRP application online. The priority deadline for DGRP applications is January 10, 2020.