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Prof. Verónica Morales Awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER Grant

Prof. Morales’ research on Fundamental Controls of Transport Attributes from Porous Media Microstructure was granted a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award. The CAREER award is NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.  

Groundwater is a primary source of drinking water for people around the world. Risks of groundwater contamination frequently arise from natural, agricultural, or industrial activities. To preserve the safety of these drinking water sources, it is crucial to understand how contaminants are expected to move and spread underground.

An important factor that influences the movement of contaminants is the variability of the void spaces in soil and rocks known as pores. Complex flow patterns arise as groundwater moves through pores of different shapes and sizes, which make predictions of groundwater flow complicated. Many mathematical predictions of groundwater flow ignore the complex variability in pores. This oversimplification results in a large discrepancy between flow predictions and observations.

Prof. Verónica Morales’ research strives to understand how contaminant movement is controlled by measurable features of the pores. The first step of this project will statistically identify the most relevant attributes of pores that cause the water to flow at a wide range of velocities. The second step will apply this relationship to develop a new mathematical model that breaks down the contaminant plume into discrete solute particles that sample the velocities found in step one. Collectively, this work will deliver more accurate tools to predict extreme events of contaminant movement and improve the tools that protect water resources.

Within her project, Prof. Morales demonstrates her commitment to educating students and the next generation of water managers. Her goal is to enhance student understanding about how groundwater flows and how contaminants spread in it. This will be done through the development of interactive web tools for non-experts (targeting high-school, college and continued education students) that can be used in flipped-classroom environments. The interactive tool design allows the user to manipulate groundwater models, explore the results as automatically-generated graphics, and discover answers to their own questions in a self-directed application of the scientific method.

The project will run from February 2019 to January 2024.

Other facts about Prof. Veronica Morales:

  • Veronica is from Mexico City, where she spent her entire childhood
  • Her degrees are in engineering, environmental science and Spanish literature
  • She earned her Ph.D. at Cornell University
  • Her postdoc years took her to Europe, where she worked at the Institute for Environmental Engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland and was a Marie Curie International Fellow at the SIMBIOS Centre at the University of Abertay in Dundee, UK
  • Since joining UCD, she has swam in the Trans Tahoe Relay each summer, representing the Women for Water Research Team
  • She recently celebrated the birth of her first son.

Learn more about her and her research group from her group’s webpage: https://www.moraleslab.ucdavis.edu/

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