On April 10, the Prairie Research Institute honored the outstanding achievements of its employees and the invaluable support of long-time advisory board member P. Kay Whitlock, who received the 2019 Friend of PRI Award.
Friend of PRI Award: Kay Whitlock
The Friend of PRI Award recognizes service and commitment in helping PRI meet its mission of being the trusted science authority to the state of Illinois. This year's recipient is Kay Whitlock, vice president at Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. Whitlock is a long-time member of the PRI Advisory Board, currently serving as co-chair.
“Kay Whitlock has been a champion, an advisor, and a protector of the Prairie Research Institute for 15 years,” said PRI Executive Director Mark Ryan. “She has been instrumental in connecting our scientists to external partners and opportunities. Her leadership has made PRI better, more focused, and more effective. PRI is delighted to recognize her for her substantial contributions to our organization, and through us to the state of Illinois.”
A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Whitlock joined CBBEL in 2001. She serves as Vice President of the Rosemont, Illinois-based firm, managing multidisciplinary water resource, stormwater and flood control projects. She has decades of experience in the areas of water resource management, stormwater management, flood control, water and natural resource engineering, federal, state and local funding and legislative testimony for project authorizations.
Research Scientist’s Career Achievement: James R. Angel
Jim Angel retired at the end of 2018 after 34 at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS). He spent more than 20 of those years at Illinois State Climatologist, the primary source of science-based weather and climate information and services for the state of Illinois.
As State Climatologist, Angel conducted research projects on topics related to weather and climate, particularly drought, extreme rainfall events, Great Lakes storms, and weather impacts. He also maintained an extensive archive of historical climate data dating back to the mid-1800s.
Perhaps the most visible indication of Angel's standing in the applied climate field is his appointment as lead author of the Midwest Chapter of the 4th National Climate Assessment issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Early in his career, Angel co-authored Bulletin 70: Frequency Distributions and Hydroclimatic Characteristics of Heavy Rainstorms in Illinois, which provides the expected rainfall amounts for select storm durations and return periods, such as the 1 percent, or 100-year storm. These data enable city engineers to weigh the costs and benefits of building infrastructure that mitigates the damage from severe rainstorms while minimizing costs. Thirty years later, many state and local agencies still mandate that engineering firms use Bulletin 70 for design projects. The publication is considered one of the most valuable ISWS contributions to the economy and welfare of Illinois in terms of the enormous amount of money saved due to improved protection against heavy rainfall for properties, businesses, and other structures. Angel has written an update for Bulletin 70 to be published in 2019.
In nominating Angel, Dave Kristovich, the head of the Water Survey's Climate and Atmospheric Science section, noted that "his activities...serve as a model for scientists interested in both applied sciences and helping people use the results of those investigations." Angel was frequently interviewed by Illinois media outlets about weather and climate conditions and spoke spoke frequently to groups, including producers, horticulturists, scientists, homeowners, students, and local, state, and federal officials.
Angel has been affiliated with the American Meteorological Society’s Committee on Applied Climatology and Committee on Hydrometeorology, American Geophysical Union, Interim National Drought Council’s Monitoring and Prediction Task Group, and the U.S. Drought Monitor discussion group.
He has also served as president of the American Association of State Climatologists and adjunct professor with the University of Illinois’ Department of Geography and Department of Atmospheric Science and the Northern Illinois University Department of Geography.
Distinguished Research Scientist: Andrew N. Miller
Illinois State History Survey mycologist Andrew N. Miller is an international expert on the biodiversity and systematics of fungi. While his research primarily focuses on on small, wood-inhabiting fungi, he also possesses a broad knowledge on the taxonomy of mushrooms and has discovered and described more than 100 new fungal taxa.
Miller has an extensive publication record; he is first, second or third author on 66 publications, has been cited more than 6,700 times, and has an H-index of 27. He also has been the principal investigator on 12 grants and co-PI for eight grants totaling $13,783,416 in the past 13 years. These grants range from detection of bat white-nose syndrome throughout Illinois to fungal inventories in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to surveys of fungal distributions along an altitudinal gradient in Peru.
As director of the herbarium, Miller is responsible for the care and management of over 1.2 million plant and fungal specimens. He has collected, databased, and preserved more than 5,000 specimens and more than 6,500 fungal isolates in culture, including over 100 type specimens.
As the only mycologist on the University of Illinois campus, Miller answers several queries per month on fungus-related questions—primarily “Can I eat this?” He has provided consultant services for the Illinois Poison Control Center and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center since 2004 and developed a popular workshop on the Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Illinois, which he has presented 26 times for Nature Centers, Forest Preserves, community colleges, and Illinois Extension. He also has mentored six post-docs, nine Ph.D. students, three M.S. students, and 16 undergraduate students.
Miller has served on several committees for the Mycological Society of America and serves on the editorial boards for the journals MycoKeys, Mycologia, and Organisms, Diversity and Evolution.
Distinguished Research Specialist/Technician: Lee Green
In his nomination letter for chemist Lee Green, her former supervisor Chris Lehmann emphasized her "work ethic, dedication, and spirit" and "can do attittude."
"She willingly takes on new duties, especially embracing new projects and their challenges," he wrote. "This energetic pursuit of new research programs is critical to the future of PRI."
Green joined the Illinois State Water Survey as an analytical chemist in 2007 and was promoted to lab manager in 2012. Lehmann pointed out that under Green's management the lab processed a record number of over 18,000 samples in 2016, representing almost 62,000 individual analyses, and that all deliverables were provided on time and within stringent quality control specifications. In summer 2017, the analytical team she managed received special commendations from program sponsors.
In 2018, Green transferred to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, where she now studies the adsorption of legacy pollutants and microbiological assemblages on environmental microplastics. Her supervisor at ISTC, John Scott, praised her for quickly picking up new skills in the year she's been with his team, including learning how to extract, isolate, and purify organics from environmental samples, gas chromatography, and mass spectrometry.
Early Career Investigator: Shantanu Pai
In nominating assistant sustainability researcher Shantanu Pai for the Early Career Investigator Award, supervisor Deb Jacobson recalled how from the beginning of his time with ISTC in 2013, Pai "exhibited great potential followed by tangible results." State Pollution Prevention Scientist Kishore Rajagopalan agreed, writing that "he was from day one a seasoned veteran" with a "combination of competence and vision." Tasked with conducting waste material audits, Pai quickly mapped out a strategy and differentiated ISTC's offerings.
Since then, Jacobson reported that Pai has taken on more and more responsibility, growing ISTC's Zero Waste Program, which offers services to public and private organizations. "Shantanu has shown his unique skills of collaborating with diverse audiences and securing externally funded, and increasingly complex, projects with organizations such as Northwestern University, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, a privately held international manufacturing company, etc."
He demonstrates his committment to sustainability by volunteering with Chicago business incubator The Plant as a member of their Technical and Research Advisory Committee and serves on the board of the Illinois Recycling Association.
He currently is completing a master's degree in urban planning (with a specialization in environmental planning) at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Distinguished Support Staff: Elizabeth Lynn Meschewski
As a senior scientific specialist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), Elizabeth (Beth) Meschewski provides project management and administrative support to projects funded through the Hazardous Waste Research program, including overseeing budgets, progress reports, and final reports. But she also has a hand in many other activities and projects at ISTC, including facilitating strategic planning, developing communication and outreach materials, and organizing events.
“I think we would be lost without her and her many contributions to the work we do at ISTC and PRI," said nominator Nancy Holm. "She has a positive attitude and adapts well to the new projects we have come our way, which can involve a lot of multi-tasking. I appreciate that I can count on her, as can others, to complete tasks efficiently and do a good job with the details."
In her letter of support, Deb Jacobson pointed out that Meschewski collaborated on ISTC's new solar panel recycling initiatives and handled the compilation of information and data for a report requested by the state on emerging contaminants. Holm also praised Meschewski's efforts to spread the word about ISTC's research to policymakers, businesses, other researchers, students, and others.
Outstanding New Support Staff: Sarah E. Scattergood
Sarah Scattergood began her career with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) as an archaeological specialist in 2014. Since then, her responsibilities have steadily increased, and she was promoted to archaeological projects coordinator at the start of 2017.
Nominator Tom Loebel, senior cultural resource coordinator, wrote that in her latest role Scattergood has significantly improved the production of Archaeological Survey Short Reports, which provide the results and recommendations of IDOT projects. "Report content and feedback to authors regarding revisions has improved dramatically due to her prior field experience and practical knowledge," he wrote. This has resulted in a perfect completion record and simultaneously allows Loebel to focus on concentrate on larger logistical and project management issues.
Scattergood's role also required her to implement a new statewide projects database, which she quickly "debugged" and mastered, leading to improved project documentation and tracking. She has also become an integral part of the ISAS geophysical survey team and is adept at operating and carrying the magnetometer, sizing up field logistics, and downloading and processing data. She has been responsible for the training and oversight of additional crew members involved in the geophysical survey program.
"Sarah has brought not only an excellent work ethic, but also a willingness to learn, adapt, find answers/solutions, as well as a professional attitude."
Outstanding Collaboration: Members of the Mahomet Aquifer Response Team & Natural Gas Working Group
This year's Outstanding Collaboration Award honors the coordinated efforts of two interdisciplinary teams that formed to respond to signficant public issues: the Mahomet Aquifer Response Team and Natural Gas Working Group. Members of the two groups are Trish Barker (PRI), Steven Brown (ISGS), Sallie Greenberg (ISGS), Anne Huber (ISGS), Walton Kelly (ISWS), Hannes Leetaru (ISGS), Randall Locke (ISGS), Kisa Mwakanyamale (ISGS), George Roadcap (ISWS), Andrew Stumpf (ISGS), Jason Thomason (ISGS), Steven Whittaker (ISGS), Richard Winkel, Jr. (PRI), and Mark Yacucci (ISGS).
The Mahomet aquifer provides hundreds of millions of gallons of water every day to nearly 1 million people in East Central Illinois for residential, industrial, and agricultural uses. Protection and management of this groundwater resource is critical to maintain and grow the region’s economy. While there has long been significant public interest in the aquifer, two things brought concerns about the aquifer to the fore in 2018.
First, a a leak occurred at a natural gas storage facility near Fisher, Illinois, impacting several homeowners' wells and raising concerns about whether the leak could impact the aquifer. Second, a Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force was established by the Illinois General Assembly. The task force was charged with developing a state plan to maintain the groundwater quality of the Mahomet aquifer; identifying current and potential contamination threats to the water quality of the Mahomet aquifer; identifying actions that might be taken to ensure the long-term protection of the Mahomet aquifer; and making legislative recommendations for the protection of the Mahomet aquifer. ISWS hydrogeologist George Roadcap was appointed to represent PRI on the task force.
PRI's two response teams worked throughout 2018 to provide objective, reliable information to all stakeholders affected by and involved in response to the natural gas leak, including frequent communication and coordination with the Illinois EPA and Illinois Attorney General's Office. The two groups also produced presentations and documents to assist the task force in its fact-finding and deliberations.
Among the task force’s top recommendations is a call to increase funding to PRI to support the use of helicopter-based time-domain electromagnetics (HTEM) technology to more accurately map and characterize the Mahomet aquifer and to deploy state-of-the-art monitoring networks and analytical capabilities to identify emerging contaminants of concern.