Justin Mychek-LonderJustin Mychek-Londer is shown here on the banks of the Detroit River. He's one of nine graduate students who received scholarships from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Protecting water resources aim of Trillium scholarship winner

Armed with a new scholarship, a graduate student in the university’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research is trying to make the world a better place by protecting our water from invasive species.

“I hope that through my research I can help make a difference in the preservation of our natural resources for future generations,” said Justin Mychek-Londer, who was one of a group of nine students who received scholarships from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Originally from Oxford Michigan, Mychek-Londer is a PhD student in GLIER director Dan Heath’s lab. His work involves collecting water samples and analyzing them to test for the presence of DNA from such aquatic species as zooplankton, invertebrates, aquatic plants and algae, all considered invasive in the Great Lakes.

“There’s the possibility of dramatic changes to ecosystem structures” because of invasive species, he said. “Often times with these species we don’t know that they’re there until they’re established, and by then it’s too late. So this is a different approach.”

Mychek-Londer – who earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado and a master’s degree at the University of Michigan – said he’s working on proving whether the method is a reliable one by conducting genetic analysis of his water samples and then “ground-truthing” it by comparing those results to actual population counts conducted in the lakes.

He believes it may also be used to monitor for threatened and endangered species, and can even be used to detect the absence of certain species’ DNA.

Other students to receive Trillium Scholarships include Farid Bahiraei and Muhammad Kashif Razzaq in civil engineering; Fama Fouladi and Ahmad Reza Vasel Be Hagh in mechanical engineering; Qiudi Geng and Ghazale Gholami in chemistry; Harri Pettitt-Wade in GLIER; and, Amir Reza Talaei Pashiri in psychology.

Trillium Scholarships are an initiative from the Government of Ontario aimed at attracting outstanding new international students and there are a limited number awarded by each university. The scholarship provides the students with $40,000 a year for four years.

“It’s nice that I can focus on my research and not have to worry about the necessities to get you through day to day life,” said Mychek-Londer, who is a member of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network and added that the scholarship has opened up opportunities for collaboration with lots of other top-notch researchers.

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