Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

Description of Research

*Check Back in November for Summer 2020 Application*

Click here to receive an email alert when the application is available


Dynamic Urban Environmental Systems and Sustainability (DUESS)


An REU Site at Rutgers University-Newark provides students with hands-on research experiences in dynamic urban environmental systems. The site takes advantage of a vigorous multidisciplinary effort that involves near surface geophysics, urban geochemistry and urban ecology in northern New Jersey and especially, the New Jersey Meadowlands. Each scholar will choose one area of specialization but the research and support activities will be integrated to show students: 1) how their research experience relates to the whole urban research project, 2) how their research affects real-life issues that affect them and their families and 3) how they can pursue research careers stemming from this experience.


DUESS REU fellows will receive a $4,000 stipend and free housing at Rutgers University-Newark for the 8-week program (6/4-7/27/18).

Please complete the application form and submit by February 20 if you wish to apply.

Please complete and submit form.  Click Here--> REU Application Form



Near Surface Geophysics

Urban Geochemistry/Biogeochemistry

Function and Sustainability of Urban Biodiversity


Near Surface Geophysics

The Near Surface Geophysics Group (NSGG) at Rutgers is engaged in research to develop emerging geophysical technologies for minimally invasive characterization and monitoring of urban environments.

The NSGG has unique expertise in electrical and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technologies and has multiple active research projects in dynamic urban environments. NSGG scientists perform interdisciplinary research at the interface of geophysics, geochemistry and microbiology. Such research is motivated by the growing need for technologies that advance understanding of complex changes in subsurface hydrogeology and biogeochemical cycling occurring within dynamic urban systems.

REU students will participate in research that focuses on the application of electrical and electromagnetic characterization and monitoring technologies for investigating long-term impacts on urban wetlands from contamination by landfill leachate plumes. A major concern in the coastal urban setting in northern New Jersey is deteriorating groundwater quality due to saline intrusion. REU students will contribute to long-term research on changes in groundwater-saltwater dynamics in response to groundwater extraction, sea level rise and the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events. Most of this research will be conducted at the nearby NJ Meadowlands. The area is managed by the Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute (MERI), a collaborator on this project.


Urban Geochemistry/Biogeochemistry

REU students will pursue research projects in the field of urban geochemistry/biogeochemistry in the polluted urban environment. One area of research focuses on the geochemical processes that control the fate of pollutants such as arsenic and chromium in soils and sediments including advanced spectroscopic tools to assess the mechanisms involved. The REU students will be actively involved in research efforts employing state-of-the-art research facilities investigating the behavior of metal pollutants in urban wetlands and river floodplains, which are prevalent in northern New Jersey. These areas are undergoing dynamic alterations associated with rising sea level and intensification of the hydrological cycle caused by climate change and urbanization. A major question is how previously accumulated soil pollutants respond to these changes. Much of this research will be in collaboration with MERI including use of the geochemistry lab (ICP-MS, IC, GC-MS, etc.)

Related to this research is characterization of metal pollutant geochemistry in urban brownfields. Phytostabilization of brownfield sites is an inexpensive management option aimed at minimizing migration of contaminants to surrounding areas. Metal-tolerant plants and trees prevent contaminants from spreading. REU students will characterize and quantify the impacts of plant-soil interactions on the biogeochemical cycling of metals at local brownfield sites applying a combination of laboratory, greenhouse, and field studies. This research experience will be done at an urban brownfield site at nearby Liberty State Park. REU participants will attempt to devise an ecosystem carbon balance and the project is comprised of a net canopy assimilation study, a soil respiration experiment and a decomposition experiment. They will calculate the biomass and thus carbon content of woody biomass (stem, branches) and leaves of inventory plots in Liberty State Park and determine allometry of trees (diameter – height relationship, branchdiameter distribution).

Associated with these efforts, other REU students will investigate the biogeochemistry of inorganic nutrients such as nitrates, ammonium and phosphates. These nutrients are necessary for life but, in excess, they disrupt the natural biogeochemical cycling and change the balance of the ecosystem. In urban environments, human activity is the main reason for these disruptions. Improving understanding of the scale and significance of these effects will help mitigate the changes. REU students will investigate cycling of these nutrients within a range of urban environmental settings in the nearby NJ Meadowlands and Liberty State Park to support and interrelate to the other REU projects. They will perform nutrient analyses using spectrophotometric methods and interpret and present their results.

Research in Sustainable Geochemistry aims to ameliorate human impacts on elemental cycles by recovering useful geochemical products from urban systems. More efficient use of inorganic nutrients, such as P and N, in human cycles has the goal of conserving Earth’s natural resources. Phosphorus is a limiting nutrient in natural and agroecosystems. Phosphate rocks are mined to produce fertilizer, thereby providing the required P to plants and ultimately higher organisms. Because of diminishing geologic P reserves and an increasing global population, concern has been expressed about the ability to continue to meet worldwide demands for P fertilizers and thus food production. REU Fellows will participate in recovering and repurposing P within the human cycle through mechanisms by which sustainability can be practiced in urban areas. Inorganic nutrients will be recovered from several sources in urban areas and nearby environs, and assessed to repurpose nutrient rich products as safe alternatives. Students will collect water samples from various urban water bodies. The nutrient content of collected samples will be evaluated to determine feasibility for P, and potentially N, removal. Students will explore various chemical methods to recover P for reuse, and design and conduct bench-top scale recovery experiments. Complete water chemistry including major and trace ions and organic content will be evaluated for P-rich samples to assess the impact on recovery. Ultimately, students working in this research area will acquire skills in the field, laboratory and analytical techniques; research and experimental design.


Function and Sustainability of Urban Biodiversity

This research concentrates on the structure and function of urban nature. REU teams will investigate whether the proposed causal linkage between biodiversity-ecosystem functioning- ecosystem services –human well-being is applicable to urban systems. In particular, the focus will be on the structure, function and potential sustainability of urban biodiversity to determine whether urban wildlands (patches of less managed areas) can serve as biodiversity reservoirs even in densely populated areas.

The REU research program will include students in the framework of a hands-on "urban biodiversity clinic" that comprises three steps. After a basic background, students will work with individual graduate students of the lab group investigating a range of aspects that span plant community ecology and species interactions of polluted sites (brownfields), the ecology of invasive species and use of urban wildlands by migratory birds. Finally, by using an established network of field sites students will develop and conduct independent research projects (field and lab) that fit their individual interest and career goals. As such, they will work on biodiversity aspects and urban systems focusing on various taxa (birds, insects, plants, etc.). The field site is located at Liberty State Park.

Contributing NCAS Faculty

Paddle Boat


NSF Logo