Blending a Love for Science and Nature

Rylie Ellison, a PhD student researcher at the University of California-Davis, was given the opportunity to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last full week of October. Ellison and four other UC-Davis students were selected through the pilot CAST Science Communication Scholarship program. As part of her application process, Ellison was asked to submit a 30-second video explaining why she chose a career in scientific research and why science communication plays a crucial role in sharing her findings. Ellison’s video can be found on CAST’s YouTube channel and other CAST social media.

Ellison’s appreciation for the outdoors was developed in her home state of Washington where she grew up hiking, camping, snowboarding, and kayaking. “As a researcher in agricultural and environmental chemistry, I can effortlessly blend my love for science with my love for being outdoors.” In high school, Ellison had an “incredible teacher” whose passion and enthusiasm sparked her interest in science. As an undergraduate she knew she wanted to be a chemistry major, but she wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do with it yet. Between her classwork and undergraduate research, she developed an interest in going to graduate school for applied research in an environmentally focused program. “I discovered the Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry Graduate Group at UC-Davis, which seemed to perfectly suit my desire for interdisciplinary research in a field where I could do research that would potentially make a real difference in agriculture.”

She has wanted to be a scientist since high school and a researcher since college; however, her interest in agriculture wasn’t developed until graduate school. “Going from thinking about agriculture in the abstract to being in and around it every day has shown me how important and thankless the work that farmers do every day is. They feed the world and I am happy to do research that helps them to continue to do just that.”

Now that Ellison is done with classes she is completely focused on her research, which is centered around a process that uses hydrodynamic cavitation to rapidly break down and sterilize manure, along with stabilizing chemical additives to produce a stable fertilizer for field application. She is then testing how this affects nutrient cycling, plant growth, and gas emissions in agricultural soils. “I think with the way the climate is changing, we will have to continue to adapt the way we grow food to keep up with the changes in conditions, resources, and populations.”

When looking toward the future, Ellison is hoping to make a career out of environmental policy and science communication. “I believe that providing a balanced scientific voice in policy-making is essential to influencing informed decision-making skills that affect both people in the agricultural industry and consumers. It is my goal to bridge the communication gap between different groups, including policymakers and the public. Another exciting project that Ellison is working on allows her to showcase her love for nature–the development of a curriculum for an outdoor STEM program for high school girls. It has been a pleasure getting to know her and we look forward to working with her in the future.

Click here to watch Rylie Ellison’s video on why science communication is important to her research. You can also follow Ellison and her science communication efforts on LinkedIn.

By: Kylie Peterson

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