Bohn Selected as a Recipient for the Iowa Water Center’s Research Grant Competition

Ames, Iowa – The Iowa Water Center (IWC) annually administers a statewide grant competition known as the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

The purpose of this funding is to help graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Meyer Bohn is one the recipients, along with three other graduate students across Iowa. Each recipient will receive funding for various different research studies.

Bohn’s research focuses on mitigating soil and water degradation.

There are several programs for predictive agroecosystem modeling that are used to target solutions for soil and water quality issues in Iowa, but these models can be sensitive to soil input data. Soil maps that are available now use outdated information and lack the spatial resolution necessary for precision agroecosystem modeling. That is where Bohn comes in.

Bohn, along with his research advisor, Dr. Bradly Miller, have presented the idea of making soil maps through Digital Soil Mapping (DSM). The duo currently has a DSM project running in Story and Boone Counties, and are looking to widen their research to a “quad-county” study, including the counties: Osceola, Clay, Emmet and Dickinson.

There are two main purposes of this study. First, to create an updated soil map that can accurately target soil properties and spatial resolution. Second, to test the spatial models’ transferability used to construct the digital soil maps for their soil variation prediction capability in the greater Des Moines Lobe area.

Get to know Meyer Bohn, a PhD student at Iowa State University.

Bohn is originally from North Dakota and chose to attend Iowa State University for not only the unparalleled agriculture work and research performed there, but also because of his advisor, Dr. Bradley Miller. Dr. Miller is an assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University and is considered by many as one of the leading digital soil mapping researchers in the field.

Bohn also explained the benefit of living in Iowa as a soil scientist with an emphasis in digital soil mapping.

“Iowa is a particularly important place for improving soil map accuracy and precision. Our understanding of how soil properties vary in space has crucial implications for agricultural production and water quality. Iowa’s agricultural wealth and prosperity stems directly from the state’s rich abundance of inherently fertile prairie soils. This great wealth coincides with a critical responsibility, finding the balance between intensive agricultural production while sustaining soil and water quality.”

With the knowledge Bohn holds on the current state of soil maps, he knew that his research plans could make a significant improvement to the foundation of water and soil research throughout Iowa. This led him to apply for the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

Bohn shared that his favorite part of the research process is field work.

“I get to travel across the state sampling soils with a hydraulic probe mounted on the back of a pick-up truck,” said Bohn. “I get to see soils in ways that a textbook or journal article could never articulate, and I’ve met some incredible people along the way. The farmers of Iowa are some of the most genuine and charitable people I’ve ever met.”

Bohn also mentioned that he likes to focus on the cartography part of his research process. Cartography is the work of drawing out maps. Bohn shared that mastering the art of cartography was necessary to accurately communicate his research results. Although reaching the final product he is satisfied with can be challenging, it is very rewarding.

When Bohn isn’t in the field researching soils or perfecting maps, he enjoys being in the outdoors, such as camping, fishing, hunting and hiking. He also plays the guitar, and shared that if he ended up not being a soil scientist, he would have probably become a country music singer. On behalf of Iowa’s soil and water quality, we are so glad he chose the career that he did.

Sermet Selected as a Recipient for the Iowa Water Center’s Research Grant Competition

Ames, Iowa – The Iowa Water Center (IWC) annually administers a statewide grant competition known as the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

The purpose of this funding is to help graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Yusuf Sermet is one of the recipients, along with three other graduate students in Iowa. Each recipient will receive funding for various different research studies.

Sermet’s research predominately focuses on next-generation environmental knowledge generation and communication, as well as affordable water monitoring devices and applications.

Accuracy and reliability are two necessary components when it comes to the monitoring of our water resources. Current monitoring practices are accurate, however the cost to apply these systems on a large scale are restrictively expensive. This inspired Sermet to create a cost-friendly solution. Sermet’s research project created a water level measurement methodology that only relies on prevalent sensors, commonly found on smartphones. This allows for the camera-based embedded system to measure water levels, detect objects on the water surface (e.g. debris, boats, trees) and supply annotated data for hydrological processes, such as surface water modeling and streamflow estimation.

Get to know Yusuf Sermet, a PhD student at the University of Iowa.

Sermet first learned about the IWC when he participated in the annual Iowa Water Conference in 2016. He, along with his research group, took part in the student poster presentation and won second place that year. Sermet shared that, through this opportunity, he was able to learn from Iowa’s most prevalent researchers, professionals, stakeholders and peers in the field.

“Since then, I followed IWC’s activities and opportunities closely,” said Sermet. “With my advisor, who is the director of the Hydroinformatics Lab at the University of Iowa, Professor Ibrahim Demir, we felt that our research proposal on affordable stage sensors fit perfectly to IWC’s mission and vision, and will hopefully be useful to Iowans to prepare for future floods.”

Sermet grew up in Izmir, Turkey, where he received his undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering. After his junior year in his undergraduate studies, Sermet joined Professor Demir in the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa for a summer internship. He is currently working toward his PhD in electrical and computer engineering through the University of Iowa, where he is able to continue working as a researcher in this center. During his PhD, Sermet has been given the opportunity to work on creating artificial intelligence solutions for environmental and climate issues. When asked what his favorite part of the research process is, Sermet answered,

“What I like about the research process is the excitement of taking on new challenges, audaciously brainstorming ideas and innovating novel solutions.”

According to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), the United States currently has 2.7 million streams and associated watersheds with poorly monitored network of only 8,300 sensors. Sermet stated that the federal and state governments in the United States use stage sensors can range in cost from $3,000-$30,000, with an additional expense of anywhere between $1,000-$10,000 in annual maintenance costs.

“These expensive sensor prices cause challenges for effective data coverage, which is crucial for natural disaster mitigation, water resource management and climate change,” Sermet said. “This data scarcity led us to come up with a novel approach that will allow the development of next-generation stream sensors within the cost range of $100-$400.”

When Sermet takes a break from his lab research work, he enjoys playing basketball, going to different concerts and movies and discovering new places. Sermet mentioned that most of these hobbies were put on pause due to COVID-19, so he has recently picked up the art of cooking. He likes to create Mediterranean dishes in particular.

The well-being of people and our communities inspired Sermet to complete his research proposal on affordable monitoring practices. Sermet shared that, over the last 40 years, water related natural hazards, such as floods and droughts, have killed more than 3,500 people in the United States and have caused over $350 billion in damage. Water resources support a plethora of daily-life necessities, including providing safe water for consumption, recreation, irrigation and power generation. Sermet explained that, because of the dire need for safe water, it is vital to have a reliable, water resource monitoring system in order to diminish the loss of life and property that water related disasters can create. It is his hope that with his completed research, this goal can become a reality.

Iowa Water Center Graduate Student Research Competition Now Open

09.18.2018 – Ames, Iowa – The Iowa Water Center Graduate Student Research Competition is now open for graduate students located at accredited institutions in Iowa.

Funding of up to $5,000 for one year is available for a maximum of three graduate students nearing completion of their program of study. This program allows for students to complete additional research objectives or products beyond the scope of their current water related funded project. Iowa Water Center staff is available to assist students in their submissions.

Graduate students who study any topic related to water resources management are eligible to apply for this grant. Topics include but are not limited to water quality, water quantity, and the human dimensions of water resources management in Iowa. A repository of previously funded projects can be found here.

Research proposals must follow RFP guidelines and can be submitted to the Iowa Water Center via email (send to Graduate students must submit their intention to submit a proposal by November 9, 2018 by 5PM Central Time.

Proposals are due November 26, 2018 by 5PM Central Time. Late proposals will not be accepted. More information regarding this opportunity can be found at the Iowa Water Center website.

The Iowa Water Center will not host a seed grant competition for faculty in 2019.

The Iowa Water Center: The Iowa Water Center is a federally funded organization, part of the National Institutes for Water Resources. Located on the Iowa State University campus, it is one of 54 institutes located throughout the United States and U.S territories. The purpose of the Iowa Water Center is to identify water-related research needs, provide outreach and education opportunities, and disseminate information about Iowa’s water resources to the public to form better policies and everyday practices.

Media Contact: Hanna Bates, Iowa Water Center (

Winter Update from the IWC Graduate Student Research Grant Program: Emily Martin

Post submitted by Emily Martin, MS Environmental Science student at Iowa State University and recipient of the Graduate Student Supplemental Research Competition

Since the last update, we switched the focus of our study to the ability of biochar to remove nitrate in comparison to a woodchip-only bioreactor. As a reminder, the original goal of the project was to evaluate the ability of woodchip bioreactors to remove phosphorous by adding biochar as a phosphate (P) amendment. In the previous update, we found in a P sorption study that none of the biochars performed well at removing P from solution.

To compare nitrate removal, we ran what is called a batch reactor test. The batch test used five liter buckets filled with 30 grams of biochar, 350 grams of Ash woodchips, and three liters of deionized water. As a control to see the real impact of adding biochar, some buckets only contained woodchips. Both the test and control buckets had three types of denitrifying microbes added: Bradyrhizobium japonicum, Pseudomonas stutzeri, and DN-8A.

One issue that can arise not only in batch tests, but also in field woodchip bioreactors is an initial flushing of nutrients from the woodchips, and as we found out in the P sorption tests, also from biochar. To prevent this affecting our batch reactor tests, we allowed the mixture to soak for 24 hours. After the initial soak, the buckets were drained of the deionized water and two liters of nutrient solution was added. The nutrient solution was made to 30 mg/L NO3 and 10 mg/L PO42- using KNO3 and KH2PO4 – PO4 with deionized water, respectively. Samples were taken at 0, 4, 8, 12, and 24 hours to test for NO3N.

Results showed that 12 of the 18 biochars removed more nitrate than the woodchip control. The biochar with the most removal was the 600°C Corn Stover, which almost doubled the amount of nitrate removed by the control. Of the 12 biochars that removed more nitrate than the control, 50 percent were 800°C, 25 percent were 600°C, and 25 percent were 400°C. All six of the 800°C biochars performed better than the control. The nitrate results overall were more promising than what was found in the P sorption test. There is potential to increase the ability of field bioreactors to remove nitrate by adding biochar; however, more tests will be needed to see how the biochar handles scaling up and field conditions. This was a short-term test in a laboratory setting. It is possible that on a larger scale, longer timescale, and at varying influent nitrate concentrations, biochar could perform worse than seen in the lab.


A secondary part of the batch test was following up to the P sorption test. Because the biochar leached phosphorus in the P sorption test, the 24 hour soak in deionized water should have helped remove the initial leaching. We are still testing all of the biochars, but initial results from a set of three biochars and the woodchip control showed that all still leached phosphorus into the solution. This could be problematic for the use of biochar in field conditions and should be managed if tests are taken to full-scale.

The next step for the project is to finish testing for phosphorus removal from the batch tests. After that, a paper will be written and submitted for publishing. As conferences are coming up this spring, I will be creating a poster to present at the Iowa Water Conference (March 21-22) and the Environmental Science Graduate Student Symposium (April 4).