Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Heidi Kelly
Heidi Kelly

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News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

December 6, 2006

NIU graduate student’s research hits pay dirt

DeKalb, Ill. — Heidi Kelly, a graduate student studying geography at Northern Illinois University, is working to advance her career from the ground up—quite literally.

Kelly’s research on soil recently took top honors in a nationwide competition, earning for her a $500 travel scholarship to a major conference in Indianapolis, where she presented her findings to an international audience of scholars and professionals.

The 25-year-old Sycamore native beat out 30 other applicants in winning the scholarship from the Association of Women’s Soil Scientists.

“This was no small feat,” said NIU Geology Professor Melissa Lenczewski, Kelly’s co-adviser. “Heidi was competing against students from a number of major universities with large soil programs.”

More than 3,500 people from 50 countries attended the Nov. 12-16 conference, which brought together members of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America.

“I think her award says something about the quality of research that our students are doing,” said Geography Professor Michael Konen, who leads the soil science program at NIU and also is Kelly’s co-adviser.

“Heidi is doing a lot of unique things with her research. She’s been going to Argonne National Laboratory to work with scientists there and learn about new procedures they’re using to examine microbes and pesticides,” Konen said.

Microbes are microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, which are commonly found in soil. Kelly’s research examined the effects of agriculture on soil microbes. More specifically, she studied the ability of agricultural soil to break down Atrazine, a commonly used herbicide in corn crops that can migrate to groundwater.

“I looked at the ability of microbes to break down contaminants in different types of soil,” Kelly said. “Human activity is greatly altering the microbial communities, and we don’t really know what the impact is. It hasn’t been studied much.”

Kelly earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at NIU and is on course to graduate in May with a master’s degree in geography, with an emphasis in soil science. She hopes to land a job with an environmental firm or laboratory where she can continue her research on microbial communities.