Dan Gilchrist

Dan Gilchrist

Communications Director, Office for the Vice President of Research

Dan leads OVPR’s communications department, which plans, coordinates, and implements communications strategies that highlight the importance of the U of M’s research enterprise and its role as a partner in economic development and technological advancements. He advises the vice president for research and his executive leadership on communications and government relations and assists with issue management related to research for OVPR and the University. He previously served the University as a speechwriter to two presidents, federal relations coordinator, and Extension program coordinator. He holds two policy-related degrees from Stanford University.

Jessica Hellmann

Jessica Hellmann

Jessica Hellmann

Committee Co-Chair
Director, Institute on the Environment

Jessica Hellmann is the Director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. She is also the Russell M. and Elizabeth M. Bennett Chair in Excellence in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior.

Hellmann’s research focuses on global change ecology and climate adaptation. She was among the first to propose and study ways to reduce the impact of climate change through new techniques in conservation management. Hellmann led an important paradigm shift in ecology and natural resource management by showing that adaptation — living with climate change — is just as crucial to the future of humanity and Earth’s ecosystems as slowing and stopping greenhouse gas emissions. Her research and that of her students also has shown that differences in the way populations respond to climate change are key to predicting and managing their future.

Hellmann earned her Ph.D. in biology from Stanford University and served as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Biodiversity Research. She is an alumna of Stanford’s Leopold Leadership Program and a recipient of a career enhancement fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Paige Novak

Paige Novak

Paige Novak
Co-Director MnDRIVE Environment


Paige Novak is the co-director of MnDRIVE Environment and the Joseph T. and Rose S. Ling Chair of Environmental Engineering in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering.

Novak researches how external environmental factors influence the biodegradation of hazardous substances. This is of critical importance in designing and implementing biologically based remediation systems, using microorganisms to treat drinking water, or optimizing wastewater treatment. Novak’s work takes her from laboratory to the field, trying to understand the interactions between microorganisms and environmental conditions. She has been involved in field work which focused on implementing remediation technologies that alter environmental conditions and thereby stimulate beneficial biological activity.

Novak received her PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Iowa. She was a founding fellow in the Institute on the Environment, and has been a member of the BioTechnology Institute since 2010. In 2016 she was named a fellow in the Water Environment Federation. She is the recipient of Sara Evans Woman Scholar/Leader Award from the Office for Faculty and Academic Affairs and the Women’s Center at the University of Minnesota in 2013.

Mike Sadowsky

Mike Sadowsky

Director, BioTechnology Institute

Michael Sadowsky is the Director BioTechnology Institute, and a Distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate. He is the Co-Director MnDRIVE Environment.

His area of research is in several areas of environmental microbiology. One of the major research efforts in his laboratory is directed toward the development of technologies to determine sources of fecal pollution in waterways. His lab is also investigating the use of purified enzymes, and transgenic bacteria and plants, to bioremediate herbicide-contaminated soils and water. Recently, his research has extended to the way microbial transplantation alters the gut ecosystem, and the potential benefits for human health.

Sadowsky is a fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Microbiology and is internationally known and respected for his research work in the area of environmental microbiology. He received his PhD in Microbiology from the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

Frozen: The Importance of Ice and Snow Cover

Frozen: The Importance of Ice and Snow Cover

Frozen: The Importance of Ice and Snow Cover

It’s hard to study underneath the ice, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

Just because we can’t see beneath the ice on lakes, does that mean there’s nothing going on? That it’s not important?

What’s In There?

Of course not. Ice fishermen have long been interested in fish activity during winter months. But NRRI Scientist Andy Bramburger is interested in what’s going on with the organisms further down the food chain. And it turns out that ice cover and the snowpack on top of it are both important for a specific species of algae that has found its frozen niche.

“We have several months of the year here when the lakes are covered with ice,” said Bramburger, a limnologist who studies the tiniest of aquatic organisms, “and we really haven’t the foggiest idea of what’s going on down there. This study is about who’s living under there and what are they doing?”

What We Know

Well, we do know a few things. Along with the fish swimming around, bacteria are decomposing matter and oxygen is being consumed. But as far as Bramburger’s area of study – algae that supplies energy up the food chain – it was assumed that they were mostly dormant until ice-out in the spring. While discussing aspects of winter limnology with Large Lakes Observatory scientist Ted Ozersky, the two decided they’d better do ice research sooner rather than later… “before we don’t have a long enough ice period to study,” Bramburger added. “Climate change is making periods with ice cover shorter and shorter in temperate lakes that experience seasonal changes.”

The scientists cobbled together funding – a bit from Minnesota Sea Grant and some Large Lakes Observatory faculty funds – and paid for a student researcher through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Then they found an easily accessible body of water where historical algal communities have already been studied: the St. Louis River Estuary.

“We’ll be able to look at the historical records to see if what we see blooming under the ice are well represented in sediments from the past,” said Bramburger. “Have ‘under-ice’ algae species become more or less common through time?”

Spiking the Samples

The ice was finally thick enough in January 2016 to begin collecting water samples. Both clear and dark bottles were used to measure the processes of photosynthesis and cell respiration, in water collected from varying depths. “At each depth there’s an algal community doing its thing and trying to make a living,” Bramburger explained.

The next step sounds worse than it is. The bottles are spiked with trace amounts of radioactive carbon that the algae take in as they photosynthesize making the process measurable. If the scientists know how much photosynthesis is taking place, they know how active and productive the algae are under the ice.

This small scale study – just three months of sampling, once a week – will hopefully lead to more in-depth research. But they found that the first meaningful burst of photosynthesis does happen under the ice, but not until most of the snow has melted and sunlight can get through.

Algae on the Ice

With ice still about eight inches thick last spring, they found high numbers of an algae species called Aulacoseira islandica. This species frequently attaches itself to the bottom of the ice, accessing the limited light resources very early in the season, in advance of other algae species.

Algal productivity is important because they are the food source for microscopic zooplankton, which are the food source for bigger things, like the fish we eat.

“As we lose ice cover, we’re in danger of never having understood how much algal production is happening under the ice and its importance to the overall lake food web,” said Bramburger. “That’s why we needed to do this study, and I hope it leads to more research.”

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