Autumn Starcher
Autumn Starcher
Ph. D. Graduate Student
  • Bachelor of Science in Environmental Chemistry and Environmental Science, minor in Biology – Marshall University, Huntington, WV – May 7, 2011

  • Capstone Research Title: “Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) reduction of waste water at Flint Group Pigments, Huntington, WV.”

Research Interests
  •   Wetland soils are dynamic systems in the natural environment in which wetting and drying cycles alter the speciation of redox-sensitive elements.  These elements, such as Fe, can occur in many phases and oxidation states in these systems and are intimately related to and can affect the fates of other elements in these systems.  Of special concern are redox-sensitive contaminants that may be present in the environment. 

    Model systems in laboratory settings are used to simulate reactions that may occur in the natural environment.  As part of my PhD research, I examine reactions of Fe(II) with Al-bearing minerals to better understand how the Fe(II) is bound to the mineral and determine how products of these reactions affect other metals in the system, such as Zn.  The conditions used in these model reactions (near-neutral pH and anoxic environment) are representative of wetland soil conditions.  By using X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and 57Fe Mössbauer spectroscopy, I have been able to determine how the Fe(II) and Zn bind to the minerals and what phases form from these reactions.

    One notable phase that has been found to form in these reactions, an Fe(II)-Al(III)-layered double hydroxide (LDH), has yet to be discovered in the natural environment.  Similar LDH phases, such as green rusts, have been found in the environment and are important mineral phases in the system.  By taking soil cores in the reduced soils of the Great Cypress Swamp, I can use XAS to determine what Fe-bearing mineral phases are present in the soil.  By comparing wetland soils from undisturbed areas to soils from contaminated or disturbed areas, it is possible to determine how the disturbances influence element speciation.  Understanding these model reactions and products enables us to model redox-sensitive systems in the natural environment. This will allow for a more accurate prediction of contaminant fate in the environment, so remediation strategies can be effectively developed.

Teaching Interests and Outreach
  •  Developing proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is important for students wishing to pursue degrees and careers in these fields; however, many students who graduate from high school lack the proficiency in these subject areas.  Working with 4-H, a youth development program, has provided me with many opportunities to provide STEM outreach in Delaware as a part of 4-H’s initiative to engage young people in science programs. 

    As a soil chemist, I developed a Winter Workshop entitled “The Soil Rainbow” in which youth ages 8-12 learned about the many different colors of soil that occur in nature and where these soils come from.  This workshop also provided the participants with the opportunity to be a soil scientist by using a Munsell soil color chart to determine soil color, as well as make a “pocket soil profile,” soil crayons, and an edible soil profile.  As a result of this workshop, activity kits of this lesson have been prepared and disseminated to other groups throughout DE to promote soil science education and interest.

    To supplement my PhD research project on wetlands, I co-lead a 4-H club that promoted wetland conservation through implementation of the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design program.  Club members learned about waterfowl and the importance of preserving their habitat through discussion, art projects, hands-on experiments, and a field trip to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Smyrna, DE.  The youth ultimately competed in the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Junior Duck Stamp contest to support national wetland conservation efforts.

    By serving as the 2014 4-H Science Saturday Workshop Series program director, I designed and am currently implementing workshops that expose youth to 4-H STEM curricula and programs to increase youth STEM knowledge and interest.  By coordinating with local stakeholders, such as Master Gardeners, University of Delaware Botanical Gardens, University of Delaware Webb Farm, White Clay Creek State Park, and Delaware Biotechnology Institute, New Castle County 4-H has been able to deliver diverse hands-on activities and tours to develop youth interest in STEM. 

Starcher, A.N., W. Li, and D.L. Sparks. 2014. Spectroscopic evidence of mixed divalent metal layered double hydroxide phase formation from the co-sorption of Fe(II) and Zn with Al-bearing mineral substrates. 247th American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition, Dallas, Texas, March 16-20. Oral Presentation.

Starcher, A.N., W. Li, and D.L. Sparks. 2014. Green rust formation from Fe(II) sorption to Al-bearing phyllosilicates with structural Fe impurities. 247th American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition, Dallas, Texas, March 16-20. Poster Presentation.

Scholarships and Awards

  • West Virginia 4-H All Star, West Virginia Cooperative Extension, West Virginia University – January 2014

  • Donald L. and Joy G. Sparks Graduate Fellowship in Soil Science, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Delaware – December 2012

  • Honors College Graduate, Marshall University – May 7, 2011

  • Graduated with Honors - Magna Cum Laude, Marshall University – May 7, 2011

  • College of Science Dean’s List, Marshall University – Fall 2007 - Spring 2011

  • John Marshall Scholarship, Marshall University – Fall 2007 - Spring 2011

  • Virgil E. and Irene O. Hodges Scholarship, Marshall University Foundation – Fall 2007 - Spring 2011

  • West Virginia PROMISE Scholarship, College Foundation of West Virginia – Fall 2007 - Spring 2011

  • Delbert Carney Staats Memorial Scholarship, Marshall University Foundation – Fall 2007 - Spring 2008

  • McKay-Coast Scholarship, Fall 2007 - Spring 2008