Indiana State University Newsroom

ISU geology student will present her research on Capitol Hill

January 31, 2020

The selection of senior geology major Hannah Veldhuizen to present her work in April to members of Congress and their staffs reflects ISU’s distinctiveness in emphasizing undergraduate research, faculty members said.

Veldhuizen was among 60 people chosen from 350 entries to participate in Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C. The event is organized by The Council on Undergraduate Research.

“At this event and its related activities, members of Congress and their staff members learn about the importance of undergraduate research through talking directly with the student researchers involved in these programs,” said Dr. Tom Steiger, director of ISU’s Center for Student Research and Creativity. 

Veldhuizen’s project is titled “Microplastics ingested by planktivores in the Wabash River from 1963-2010.”

“Hannah is an excellent example of how undergraduate research experiences can help students achieve their potential,” said Dr. Jennifer Latimer, chairperson for the department of earth and environmental systems and professor of geology.

Veldhuizen, a Terre Haute native, participated in ISU’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) last summer. SURE is an intensive 10-week independent research program, which matches students with faculty members and requires multiple presentations. 

Latimer said Veldhuizen’s research is relevant to current environmental issues. Ingestion of microplastics, which are less than five millimeters in length, by planktivorous fish has been documented in aquatic environments globally. That has led to concern over the impact microplastics may have on aquatic food webs and ecosystems. 

Veldhuizen looked at the appearance and abundance of microplastics in several species of planktivorous fish collected from the Wabash River between 1963 to 2010, using preserved fish archives. 

She found that microplastics were present in the all twenty-nine of the planktivorous fish stomach samples, including the sample from 1963. The findings indicate that microplastic pollution has been impacting aquatic life in the Wabash River for at least the last 60 years. 

The most abundant microplastic ingested was microfibers. That means the most common microplastic source in the Wabash River is likely synthetic clothing, which produces microfibers when washed. About 700,000 fibers could be released from clothing during a single load of laundry.

 Veldhuizen said she’s looking forward to presenting her research to legislators and others.

“Being able to present on the Hill provides the opportunity to share my ideas and values with members of Congress, congressional staffers and federal government officials,” Veldhuizen said. “The direct communication between constituents and members of Congress is a vital aspect of democracy, and I value the chance I have to do so.”

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