The Office of Naval Research offered great recognition to Dr. Kelly Dorgan's work by naming her one of 33 Young Investigator Award recipients. More than 360 researchers applied for the grants. The award provides support for young scientists "who show exceptional promise for doing creative research."
"It's a great opportunity for me because it provides resources to expand and develop some preliminary research I've been doing and to build my research program here at DISL. I'm also really honored to be selected, as it's a really competitive program," Dr. Dorgan said.
Dr. Dorgan, an assistant professor with the University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, received the grant to continue her original research on understanding how animals that live in sediment interact with their environments. The research builds on work she began in graduate school.
"This grant will build on some recent work I've been doing to figure out whether and how these animals change sound speed and attenuation in sediments," Dr. Dorgan explained. "With the new project, I will be adding measurements of the mechanical properties of sediments in addition to measuring their acoustic properties to try and understand more broadly how these animals change the physical properties of sediments. This is important to the Navy because they have found that in areas with a lot of biological activity, animals that build tubes or burrow can interfere with their ability to find buried mines and to use acoustics to predict whether the seafloor is muddy or sandy, which they want to know before they try and deploy any instrumentation or conduct any field operations."
One of the big challenges Dr. Dorgan faces in her research is developing tools to be able to quantify these changes.
"The acoustic and mechanical techniques I'll be using to determine how animals change sediments are really promising tools to quantifying how animals change their environment and then how this affects other animals in the community."
In the hours of research Dr. Dorgan has conducted thus far, she's made some interesting discoveries.
"Some of my earlier work has shown that worms actually extend burrows through muddy sediments by fracture. Muds have a lot of organic material that makes the sticky (which is how people make nice intact mud pies), and worms expand their bodies to push outward against the walls of their burrow as they move forward basically like a wedge. This process depends on how stiff the mud is, or how much the worms have to push outward to expand their bodies, and what the fracture toughness is, or how much energy the worms have to expend to make the crack grow. In this new project, I'm going to measure both of these properties of muds, as well as other mechanical measurements and sound speed and attenuation."
The Young Investigator Award will allow Dr. Dorgan to conduct a larger study based on promising preliminary data which shows the effects of animals are potentially important.