Building a Body of Research
Recent Honors College graduate Edward Lo has had his 2013 Honors Thesis accepted for publication in Geo-Marine Letters, a prestigious marine geology scholarly journal. Edward is the first author, and his thesis advisor Dr. Samuel Bentley, Director of the LSU Coastal Studies Institute, is second author. Dr. Kehui Xu, Assistant Professor of Oceanography at LSU, is third author.
Edward’s thesis studied coastal erosion abatement techniques such as wetland construction using dredged materials and diversions of sediment-laden water. Edward measured the land-building capacity of muddy sediment in Lake Lery, Louisiana.
“About 90% of sediment in the delta and river is mud. The remaining 10% is sand,” Dr. Bentley said. “It’s relatively easy to predict how sand is eroded, transported and deposited by currents. Mud is much more complicated, because its resistance to erosion changes as the mud ages, and compacts. The land-building capacity of muddy sediment changes depending on location and type of mud.”
Edward found that muddy sediments deposited into Lake Lery by a local diversion (the Caernarvon Diversion) take about four weeks to consolidate and strengthen enough to resist erosion by waves and currents.
Edward’s research on local mud compaction are the first such measurements published for the Mississippi Delta, and lead to some important conclusions larger context of Louisiana’s effort to fight coastal erosion. “If we could build wetlands such that they are allowed to sit in relatively quiet water for four weeks—by putting in features that break waves, for example—this will accelerate the rates of land building outlined in the State’s Master Plan for Coastal Sustainability,” Dr. Bentley explained.
Edward first connected with Dr. Bentley in the fall of 2011, when he took Dr. Bentley’s GEOL 3032: Introduction to Sedimentology & Depositional Environments course.
“My curiosity about wetland restoration developed in a roundabout way,” Edward explained. “After taking a physical geology course and participating in Volunteer LSU’s Marsh Madness project to plant cordgrass in local marshes in the fall of 2010, I switched my major from biochemistry to geology.”
“I became interested in sedimentology through Dr. Bentley’s course,” Edward continued. “I initially worked with Dr. Carol Wicks to research how sediment transport affects cave snail habitat in southern Missouri. That combined with Dr. Bentley's courses finally convinced me to shift my undergraduate thesis topic towards the consolidation and erodibility of wetland sediments.”
After graduating from LSU in December 2013, Edward worked at the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab as a Science Undergraduate Laboratory Intern. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in geology at the University of Kentucky. “My undergraduate Honors Thesis project was a significant step towards where I am today,” Edward noted, “because the publication of that thesis, with the help of Dr. Bentley and Dr. Xu, has taught me what to expect and what I need to do to publish my master’s thesis. I hope to present my master’s thesis research at a national conference—my Honors Thesis defense also increased my confidence with presenting before a large audience.”
His undergraduate research also led him to apply for a Fulbright study/research grant to conduct wetlands research in the Pantanal, a landlocked river delta in Brazil that is the world’s largest freshwater wetland. “The pursuit of an Honors Thesis on wetland sediments strengthened my application for the Fulbright grant,” Edward said. “So I will be spending 2015 in Brazil investigating modern depositional patterns!”
In researching and writing his Honors Thesis, Edward received financial support from a number STEM research-encouragement programs at LSU, including the LA-STEM Research Scholars program, the Ronald E. McNair Research Scholars program, and the Marathon Geoscience Diversity Enrichment program. Field and lab operations were also funded by the Billy and Ann Harrison Endowment for Sedimentary Geology.
Both Edward and Dr. Bentley had advice for undergraduate researchers in the Honors College. “It’s important to write your Honors Thesis piecemeal,” Edward said, “so as not to overwhelm yourself. Start writing a draft as soon as you have firmly decided to pursue this project, so that you can start receiving feedback as early as possible, and have ample time to edit.”
“Start early and plan for delays!” Dr. Bentley said. “I find it’s helpful for students to start working informally on the subject, perhaps as a lab assistant, a year in advance of actually starting the Honors Thesis project.”
“But keep in mind,” Edward concluded, “that it is all worth it in the end.”
Article by Liz Billet, LSU Honors College