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Student Conducts U.S. Department of Energy Research

Austin Xu Examined Environmental Impacts of Hydropower Plants

Aug. 15, 2014

Biological science major Austin Howard Xu spent the summer examining the environmental impact of hydropower plants at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois.

Xu was selected as part of the DOE's highly competitive Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships Program. His 10-week research stint focused on the effect of Glen Canyon Dam operations and the relationship between water temperature and growth of the native fish species of the Colorado River.

"Hydropower operation can affect the downstream water temperature of a river. The modification in thermal regime may affect fish growth, which is a key factor in maintaining populations," said Xu, adding that hydropower uses moving water to create energy.

He investigated the growth of fish found downstream from the dam in six alternative dam operations. The amount of water released from the dam varies throughout  the year, which, in turn, affects water temperature, he explained.

"With the total fish lengths that I calculated for each alternative, I was able to find out which alternative yields the largest fish growths, giving them the best survivability. The results of my research will help determine operations at Glen Canyon Dam for the next 20 years."

On campus, the aspiring ecologist conducts research in the lab of William J. Hoese, professor of biological science. Last year, Xu studied the effect of noise pollution on bird communication. Xu, who also completed the University's Research Careers Preparatory Program, plans to graduate in 2016.

"What I enjoyed the most this summer was the research itself. I found it very exciting and interesting. The experience has further inspired me to follow my career path in ecology," said Xu, adding that he also developed a research paper and presented his work to his peers.

This summer, Argonne National Laboratory hosted 271 undergraduate interns (both Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships-funded and non-SULI funded). While most of the students were from the United States, 134 universities from across the globe were represented.

Tags:  Academics & Research