Modeling Wetlands in the Lab

More than half the wetlands in the United States have disappeared in the last half century, rendering seaside land vulnerable to storms. A big culprit, says graduate student Judy Qingjun Yang SM ’15 (pictured, above right, with Heidi Nepf, the Donald and Martha Harleman Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering), is erosion of the soils and sands holding coastal plants in place. In service of coastal restoration efforts, Yang works in Nepf’s Environmental Fluid Mechanics Laboratory developing models of marshes and wetlands.

When training to become a scientist, Yang says, “one of the most important things to learn is how to find the question that you’re interested in.” Graduate student aid she received from MIT—including the Edward H. Linde (1962) Presidential Fellowship and the Martin Fellowship—afforded her the time and freedom to explore a variety of topics until she uncovered the one that became her focus. Yang says the fellowships made it possible to attend seminars and to find communities of like-minded recipients, and this led to her cofounding MIT-TREES, aimed at communicating topics in environmental science and sustainability to a general audience. Once Yang graduates, she’ll have a handful of strong publications to show for her efforts at MIT. They’ll be evidence of her ability to model the real world. But Yang’s real power will be in her ability to find her next big idea.