Next Generation: Taylor Armstrong on controlling toxic algal blooms in lakes

June 28, 2019

2019 Presidential Fellow

Name: Taylor Armstrong
Advisor: Allen Place, Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology
Degree: Doctorate in Marine Science

What is the focus of your research?
I will be looking at how we can control and mitigate harmful algal blooms in polluted lakes. My advisor, Allen Place, worked on a process that used barley straw to manage harmful algal blooms that were producing toxins in a lake. During degradation, the straw releases a chemical into the water that inhibits algae growth, but the process of adding barley straw to a system is fairly time intensive, and it must be performed before the algal bloom begins so it has time to degrade. I want to continue that line of research and figure out what those chemicals being released by the barley are to simplify the process of combating harmful algal blooms.

I’ll also be looking into if the spent grain from breweries, one of their largest by-product, is effective in inhibiting strains of harmful algal blooms.

How will it make a difference?
I’m hoping that my research will result in a useful management strategy and potentially identify a chemical that can be added directly to lakes, making it easier to manage harmful algal blooms. Additionally, if the brewers spent grain works, it is currently a by-product of beer production that is in excess, making it a great agent for managing algal blooms.

What influenced your career path in science?
I have wanted to be a marine scientist since I was 7 years old. I have the typical story of going to Sea World, seeing the dolphins and loving them. Since I grew up in a landlocked state, I chose to get my undergraduate degree in South Carolina, and that’s what really set me on my path into chemical oceanography. I have an undergrad and master's in marine science and have worked at places like NOAA and Disney, all in fields surrounding marine science.

Why did you choose to study with your mentor at UMCES?
Allen Place [at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology] does a lot of different research projects that really intrigued me, and he also had some of the same questions about harmful algal blooms that I did. I felt like he could teach me new skills that I didn’t get while completing my master's degree. He was one of the first professors to come up to my first poster I presented at a conference. After that initial conversation went so well, I kept him in mind as a potential Ph.D. advisor from then on.

What is an experience that stands out most to you about your time at UMCES?
I wanted more experience in field research, and I got my first experience here at UMCES. Going out with the guys to put out bales of barley out on the lake so we could later take samples was pretty memorable. It was a lot of hard work but just further confirmed why this work is important.

What is the most important thing people can do to help the environment?
It’s important that people focus on the “reduce” and “reuse” portion of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” saying. It’s also amazing what going out and voting for people who care about the environment can truly do. By looking at the priorities of candidates and seeing who cares about the environment at a state and national level, you can make a big difference.

Do you have advice for kids in the next generation who are interested in STEM fields?
There is something for everyone so all kids should consider it as a career. Just because you’re not good at the classes, doesn’t mean you won’t be successful in the career.

What are your future plans?
I loved working for the government through my Knauss Fellowship at NOAA and would love to go back, working for a research science center. I also love teaching, so I’m hoping to do more of that here.