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STEPS research is organized by themes, length-scale groupings in which researchers pursue closely related research questions, promote interactions on highly associated research activities, and drive overall forward momentum.

STEPS Length Scale


Theme 1—Materials Scale generates new fundamental knowledge about phosphorus capture at atomic and molecular scales using discovery-driven approaches (i.e., biological inspiration, chemical analytics). Integrated with Materials Informatics (MI), Theme 1 accelerates the development of novel capabilities to promote the facile transformation of organic and inorganic phosphorus and enable the efficient capture and recovery of phosphate.

Theme 2—Human-Technology Scale implements materials and technologies from Theme 1 in both aqueous suspensions (e.g., surface water and wastewater) and the plant-soil-microbial system by using laboratory, greenhouse, and field-scale techniques. Theme 2 applies state-of-the-art scientific approaches including nanoscale spectroscopic characterization of phosphate speciation in soils, novel sensor development to improve tracking of phosphorus in soils, genome-wide approaches for selecting and engineering crop systems with enhanced phosphorus utilization, and development of next-generation, plant-responsive fertilizers.

Theme 3—Regional and Global Scale identifies intervention portfolios (e.g., innovative technologies, best management practices) that enable the realization of the 25-in-25 vision and are resilient to socio-economic, policy, and environmental change, using integrated modeling at global, regional, and local scales and social network analysis. Theme 2 data about the flow and management of phosphorus as a function of space and time (e.g., through urban, aquatic, and agricultural systems) guide research prioritization in Themes 1 and 2.

Convergence Informatics (CI) research initiative provides data-science-driven guidance for the design of novel and effective materials, technologies, and strategies for phosphorus capture, decomposition, and modification to realize the opportunities presented by Theme integration. CI builds upon an MI-based approach in which process-structure-properties-performance relations are designed by analyzing large materials data sets with machine learning algorithms.

The STEPS convergence research strategy, drawing from the fields of Science of Team Science as well as Integration and Implementation Science, utilizes evidence-based approaches to assimilate emerging knowledge and co-refine research questions through strategically designed interactions and processes. Convergence research strategies create efficiencies at integrating research across 17 orders of magnitude in length scale. Convergence boundary objects (data, phosphorus flow diagrams, and language mapping) serve as tangible and conceptual anchors, linking specific research contributions across STEPS disciplines and length scales and allowing the researchers to contextualize individual contributions to a highly complex problem. An example of one of these, a phosphorus flow diagram, is shown below. Specific geographical sites or Triple-Bottom-Line Scenarios that represent urban, agricultural, and aquatic systems provide technological constraints, potential impact scenarios, and connection to unique types of stakeholders in phosphorus sustainability.

Flow diagram inspired by an earlier version published by Cordell and White, Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2014. 39:161–88. Numbers alongside arrows represent million metric tons of phosphorus per year.


Project PI: Rubén Rellán-Álvarez

Co-PIs: Ross Sozzani, Luke Gatiboni

Plants have adapted to soils with various levels of phosphorus availability. This project identifies genes involved in phosphorus uptake efficiency and it is a first step to aid plant biologists and breeders interested in developing more P-efficient crops. We use natural genetic variation and recombinant inbred lines to identify maize varieties adapted to soils with low bioavailable phosphorus. By exploiting the genetic variations and developing mapping populations, we quantify and evaluate molecular, physiological, and phenotypic outcomes of plants grown in fields containing different soil types with phosphorus build-up and drop-down at the Tidewater Research Station (Plymouth, NC). The combination of approaches provides us a unique opportunity to identify genetic variations involved in plant phosphorus efficiency that can be incorporated into breeding programs to help reduce the required level of phosphorus fertilizer application.

Project PI: Luke Gatiboni

Co-PIs: Owen Duckworth, Jango Bhadha

Many soils in North Carolina contain high legacy phosphorus. Legacy phosphorus occurs when there are repeated applications of P that become tied up in unavailable chemical forms, despite large concentrations of P in the soil. However, there are some methods of acquisition that plants can perform in order to obtain P in soils where P is not in readily available forms. The amount of P acquired, and even plant methods utilized, vary by plant species. This variation even occurs within the same species across different genetic varieties. This project involves research to better understand these complex interactions between plant genetics and bioavailability of soil phosphorus. Research conducted through this project includes, quantifying the extent that genetic differences dictate nutrient acquisition. Differences were measured by the collection of root morphological data and kinetic data to measure differences among three different varieties of corn. In a greenhouse experiment, we will evaluate the plant strategies to scavenge legacy P from the rhizospheric soil. Another fundamental facet of controlling and utilizing legacy phosphorus involves understanding the social science aspect of phosphorus application. This was achieved by collecting survey data from NC farmers about P application habits.

Project PI: Eric McLamore

Co-PIs: Jango Bhadha, Sherine Obare, Treavor Boyer

Management of phosphorus distribution has improved in the last 50 years, but the current approach is not sustainable. Material flows across the phosphorus continuum have numerous inefficiencies, and there is a lack of knowledge regarding the fate and transport of phosphorus in various systems. Standard analytical tools are confined to a laboratory, and require trained personnel as well as expensive instruments for quantification. There is a critical need for low cost, reagent-free, sensing technologies for quantifying phosphorus flows across the food-water-sanitation nexus. Quantitative tracking of phosphorus flows in irrigation water, surface water, and urine will allow optimization of system level management at various scales. Current field-based tools for measuring P in aqueous samples are based on steady state (equilibrium) reactions and require use of reagents that must be discarded as toxic chemical waste. Development of accurate, reliable phosphorus sensors for in situ monitoring requires a new approach, one that is based on transient (non-linear) signal analysis and employs state of the art advances in material science and data science. The goal of this project is to screen polymer-metal nanobrushes for identifying a reversible transduction material used in phosphorus sensing. The objectives are designed to use boundary objects (sensor application in urine and surface water) as benchmarks for driving the design. We will develop three species-specific sensors targeting: inorganic (monovalent and divalent) phosphates, and organophosphates (e.g., malathion chlorpyrifos). For information arbitrage and technology translation, a phosphorus sensing library will be developed, containing key performance indicators for devices in the published literature (as well as tools from this research).

Project PI: Christine Ogilvie Hendren

Co-PIs: Gail Jones, Anna- Maria Marshall, Maude Cuchiara

The objective of this work is to determine how teams can intentionally converge to complete such complex, interlinked research so we can learn, improve, generalize, and repeat the approach in tackling myriad other pressing socio-technical-environmental grand challenges. This work will combine expertise in Integration and Implementation Sciences (I2S), social science, educational research, and Convergence research to systematically capture and synthesize data from deployed Convergence interventions throughout the Center, and analyze related experiences and impacts. The research will also identify disconnects and reflect on interventions for integration and convergence that are less successful or impactful. We aim to develop new interventions and theory as scaffolding for convergence in research teams (such as additional co-created boundary objects, new habits of mind, and additional tools within the toolkit) and continue to study the use and impacts of these methods within the STEPS team. The outcomes from this work will be embedded collaboratively in education research and social science efforts already underway, and/or deployed in STEPS seminar settings to avoid additional time burdens on STEPS team members.

Project PI: Christopher Gorman

Co-PIs: Jan Genzer, Justin Baker, Treavor Boyer, Christopher Muhich, Paul Westerhoff, Yaroslava Yingling, Marty Lail, Owen Duckworth, Detlef Knappe, Jacob Jones, Brooke Mayer

Despite 50 years of research on phosphorus (P)-adsorbents, none are used at the human scale. It arguably is because virtually none of this research has focused on systematic structure-property relationships that seek to define how structure (from the Ångstrom length scale [molecular] to the meter length scale [P-source]) influences P-capture and release. This project’s intellectual merit and goal are establishing these structure-property relationships with an eye to fundamental understanding and applicability to P-recovery (capture and release) and environmental fate in realistic water matrices. A multidisciplinary, multi-university team involving researchers with complementary expertise will approach this project convergently. Our systematic, high-throughput approach will offer means of identifying optimal target materials and chemistry for selective P adsorption/desorption. The same engineering mechanisms for selective P-recovery influence the fate of ortho-P in rivers and soils, as ortho-P interacts with naturally occurring colloids and soil surfaces. Our convergent approach provides insights into both engineered and natural systems.

Project PI: Brooke Mayer

Co-PIs: Paul Westerhoff, Doug Call, Jan Genzer, Owen Duckworth, Bruce Rittmann

The chemical form in which phosphorus (P) is present dictates its bioavailability, environmental significance, and removal/recovery efficiency in engineered processes. Yet, most techniques to remove and recover phosphorus target soluble reactive phosphorus and are likely not suitable for soluble nonreactive phosphorus such as organic phosphorus. Deeper understanding of the underlying basis and the extent of phosphorus transformations (e.g., between reactive and nonreactive species) would enhance phosphorus removal and recovery efforts. Specifically, transformation of soluble nonreactive phosphorus to the more readily removable/recoverable soluble reactive form may offer a feasible approach. We propose to develop and test a new approach to assess the feasibility of phosphorus-transformation processes using mechanistic and energy-based comparisons (e.g., kWh/g-P transformed). We focus on the cleavage of bonds in complex phosphorus-containing molecules, i.e., phosphoester, phosphoanhydride, and direct P-X (where X is an electronegative group such as C, S, N, or F), via chemical oxidation or biological hydrolysis reactions.

Project PI: Doug Call

Co-PIs: Amy Grunden, Jacob Jones, Paul Westerhoff

The overall goal of this project is to improve removal, recovery, and reuse of P from wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs). WWTFs remove P by chemical precipitation with Al- or Fe-salts, accumulation inside microorganisms as polyphosphate (poly-P) during enhanced biological P removal (EBPR), or a combination of both. It is challenging to recover P from biosolids, more so when P is bound to Al and Fe because it requires separation of P from thermodynamically stable solids. Barriers to P recovery could be lessened by (1) widespread adoption of EBPR so biosolids P is in its most available form, and (2) recovering poly-P from the cells as a product that has higher value than fertilizer. The challenge is that many WWTFs are hesitant to adopt EBPR because P removal can become unstable for reasons not well understood. There is opportunity to improve EBPR reliability and increase the value of recovered P by genetically editing a phosphorus accumulating organism (PAO) strain that hyperaccumulates P beyond current capabilities and developing new methods to extract poly-P for commercial use. Our primary research questions are: (1) Can we improve EBPR stability and P removal capabilities by amending gene-edited microorganisms that hyperaccumulate P? (2) Can we extract poly-P in its native form? Answering these questions requires fundamental understanding of the physiology and genetics of PAOs, methodical development of a genetically edited PAO strain, and development of poly-P characterization and extraction techniques.

Project PI: Daniel Obenour

Co-PIs: Owen Duckworth, Jordan Kern, Rebecca Muenich, Natalie Nelson, Paul Westerhoff

Through the application of fertilizers and the disposal of municipal and animal wastes, large quantities of phosphorus are regularly released into the environment. To manage and recover this phosphorus, it is critical to characterize its accumulation and transport across soils, streams, lakes, and coastal waters. In phase II of this project, we will continue to develop and synthesize information on phosphorus flows throughout the United States. In particular, we are creating new data on riverine and municipal phosphorus discharges, livestock operations, phosphorus accumulation in soils, and downstream water quality impacts. We are integrating these data within a comprehensive phosphorus budget model to identify hotspots of phosphorus retention and loss under varying climatological conditions. In addition, we will determine what phosphorus control strategies are most effective, considering phosphorus use efficiency, economics, and water quality. This research will inform high-level strategies to achieve the STEPS 25-in-25 vision, and it will provide a framework for testing more detailed management alternatives relevant to STEPS stakeholders and road-mapping efforts.

Project PI: Treavor Boyer

Co-PIs: Khara Grieger, Anna-Maria Marshall

The phosphorus (P) present in human urine has the potential to be recovered and used as fertilizer, thereby off-setting P fertilizer obtained from phosphate rock mining and contributing to a more sustainable P cycle. This project is driven by the research need of providing a convergent understanding of the implementation, adoption, and sustained use of urine diversion systems in buildings from various stakeholder perspectives. Building on Phase 1, the research objectives of Phase 2 are to: (1) Evaluate the potential for building occupancy to inform the control of urine collection and P recovery systems; and (2) Identify convergent solutions with key communities of stakeholders to strengthen implementation and adoption in select building settings. This project advances the understanding of implementation, adoption, and sustained use of urine diversion in buildings by taking a “system of systems” approach that integrates new scientific insights from urine collection, P recovery, stakeholder perceptions, and organizational conditions.

Project PI: Ross Sozzani

Co-PIs: Imani Madison, Jan Genzer, Brooke Mayer, Juan Nino

This project aims to address the challenge of enhancing phosphate availability to plant cells, which is essential for plant development. The primary objective is to explore three approaches: developing nanomaterials to convert organic phosphorus into bioavailable phosphates, creating a controlled-release system for delivering phosphates to plant cells, and studying plant phosphate binding proteins for potential crop improvement strategies. The project will design and evaluate biomaterials to improve phosphate availability in soil. This includes using MA-based polymers to degrade organophosphates into bioavailable phosphates and PLA-coated nanoparticles as a controlled-release fertilizer system. Additionally, plant phosphate binding proteins will be studied to understand their affinity, selectivity, and stability in binding phosphate. The project will employ 3D bioprinting to assess the viability and phosphate content of Arabidopsis thaliana cells treated with each biomaterial. The objectives include investigating plant protein binding affinities, screening for improved cellular and whole-plant phosphate content under different environmental conditions, and screening for increased cellular phosphate content through organophosphate degradation. The project will generate data on protein thermodynamics, transcriptomes, and microscopy images. The intellectual merit lies in filling knowledge gaps about phosphate binding proteins and their functional differences, while the broader impacts involve developing alternative phosphate fertilization methods and advancing crop improvement strategies.

Project PI: Elise Morrison

Co-PIs: Jango Bhadha, Sandra Guzmán, Shin-Ah Lee, Natalie Nelson

Collaborators: Khara Grieger

The South Florida (SFL) TBL site is a vast and complex landscape of ecosystems encompassing a diversity of land uses, stakeholders, phosphorus (P) sources, and water quality challenges. Given the complexity of the P flow diagram at this site, there is a fundamental need to identify the boundaries and synthesize current data gaps in the P flow diagram of the SFL TBL. This project will refine the boundaries and identify P management priorities for the SFL TBL to better identify regional needs to reach STEPS 25-in-25 goal. This will be undertaken with three goals: (1) define the boundaries and management priorities of the SFL TBL with stakeholder input; (2) synthesize existing data from the South Florida Water Management District’s database on aquatic P flows in the system; and (3) fill data gaps in the SFL TBL P diagram by assessing P speciation and turnover in sediments within the SFL TBL. Refining the P flow diagram in the South Florida TBL will help us evaluate future triple bottom-line (i.e., environmental, economic, and social) impacts related to P sustainability in the region.

Project PI: Bruce Rittmann

Co-PIs: Doug Call, Sherine Obare, Joshua Boltz

Advancing the STEPS 25-in-25 vision requires recovering P found in high-strength organic wastewaters from animals, food processing, and food waste. The organic carbon in these wastewaters contains a large amount of renewable energy that anaerobic microbiological processes can convert to methane gas, which also releases the P in forms that ought to be recovered and recycled to produce renewable fertilizer. However, the chemical speciation of the released P is unknown, which makes it difficult to develop methods to recover the P- containing species. We work with Theme 1 to identify the chemical speciation of P in anaerobic-treatment effluents and to develop means to recover those P species. Using a combination of experimentation with anaerobic treatment, advanced analytical methods, and mechanistic modeling, the team is developing understanding of P speciation and what controls it in anaerobic treatment. This will lead to design and operations strategies for anaerobic treatment that simultaneously recovers 90% of the energy and the P from high-strength organic wastewaters, which protects water quality, enables P-circular economy, and makes waste treatment more economically attractive.

Project PI: Natalie Nelson

Co-PIs: Dan Obenour, Luke Gatiboni, Hector Fajardo, Alexey Gulyuk, Elise Morrison, Shin-Ah Lee, Rebecca Muenich, Argha Saha, Stevan Earl, Eric McLamore, Sherine Obare

Accurately quantifying phosphorus (P) fluxes is key to understanding the sustainability of the P cycle at the site-scale. Currently, models that simulate P fluxes at individual sites (e.g. fields, watersheds) make assumptions regarding P fluxes across the landscape that are rarely supported by observational data. Advances in nutrient source tracking using isotopes create new opportunities to better track where P in the environment comes from, and improve methods for calibrating and validating P flux models. In this project, we are developing and testing new isotope-based methods for informing process-based, watershed-scale model development. Additionally, in support of model development, we are also collecting data in the field to measure P in fields and waterways. We are also working with other STEPS researchers to catalog information on STEPS technologies and methods that will be needed to run future simulations on how technology adoption portfolios could lead to alternative P sustainability outcomes.

Project PI: Jay Rickabaugh

Co-PIs: Kelly Chernin, Ashton Merck

Due to the multiple contexts and applications of P, there is rarely a single public agency focused on P management. Instead, issues like P can be managed through what social scientists call “collaborative governance regimes” (CGRs, Emerson & Nabatchi, 2015), in which representatives from different public agencies or jurisdictions meet to coordinate activity on shared concerns. While CGRs are an effective tool to address wicked problems (Rittel & Weber, 1973), such as P, CGRs often have weak authority and rarely implement drastic changes. Thus, STEPS research requires a communication strategy to reach policymakers who can promote the sweeping changes needed to achieve 25-in-25. This includes understanding how CGRs interact with other “shadow” P regulations (e.g., regulations on nitrogen in fertilizer or discharge limits in WWTPs that influence P flows without naming P specifically) that collectively constitute “P governance.” When successful, our project will generate: 1) a conceptual model that translates how STEPS research approaches the wicked problem of P with people and institutions in the public sector with authority and influence over aspects of P flows, but who may understand the wicked problem differently, and 2) communication strategies to encourage coordination among decision makers and reduce reliance on mined P, reduce P losses, and encourage P recycling across the public sector leveraging STEPS innovations.

Project PI: Anna-Maria Marshall

Co-PIs: Sandra Guzmán, Luke Gataboni, Jango Bhadha, Khara Grieger

Agricultural practices present one of the greatest challenges to P sustainability. In the US, the loss of P to soil and water is attributable in large part to agriculture, but farming practices are largely exempt from environmental regulation, such as the Clean Water Act. Most efforts to “regulate” farmers in this realm rely on voluntary measures encouraging adoption of new technologies and practices. A large body of research has studied the factors that shape farmers’ decisions about whether or not to adopt more sustainable farming practices, including farm characteristics, farm profitability, public policy, as well as the farmer’s identity and social networks. While many studies replicate these findings, we seem no closer to widespread adoption of sustainable farming practices. We hypothesize that there are relevant social indicators that have not yet been fully explored in the existing studies of farmers’ adoption of sustainable practices and technologies. Some of these factors reflect individual characteristics – ideological beliefs and attitudes toward the government, as well as individual information processing in the face of the complex information environment on sustainability and sustainable practices. Other factors are related to external forces, including family influences in running a business; the social and cultural practices and traditions in the local community; and the role of financial institutions in promoting or discouraging innovative practices. In this project, we will conduct qualitative research to identify  understudied social indicators and to develop hypotheses about how such indicators influence farmer decision-making. We will conduct interviews with scientists and Extension agents about their outreach efforts and what farmers tell them about barriers to adoption and implementation of practices, and with farmers about their own decision-making process. We will also conduct ethnographic research by attending conferences and field days and working with extension agents as they conduct outreach on sustainable practices.

Project PI: Justin Baker

Co-PIs: Zachary Brown, Luke Gatiboni, Chanheung Cho, Anna Marshall, Brent Sohngen

Legacy P in agricultural soils represents an important and highly variable sink, particularly in areas with high levels of historic synthetic fertilizer application. However, under certain conditions, legacy P stocks are bioavailable to crops and can substitute for farmers’ synthetic P fertilizer applications, reducing water quality impacts and addressing sustainability challenges of P consumption. Managing legacy P in agricultural systems is a dynamic resource management problem in which soil P accumulation and drawdown are governed by a combination of heterogeneous farm-level decisions (e.g., quantity of P mined, application rates of synthetic P, other management preferences), and physical variables (soil type and losses of P to surface water systems). With perfect information on legacy P availability, crop yield parameters, and other physical and economic processes, a farmer can optimally manage legacy P to maximize returns to production and limit economic damages from P losses. As legacy P management is subject to both economic uncertainty (e.g., fertilizer or crop prices, farmer risk preferences) and physical uncertainty (spatial heterogeneity in legacy P bioavailability and P use efficiency), this study seeks to answer several fundamental research questions related to legacy P management under uncertainty for different farm types in the United States, including – (1) What is the optimal time path for legacy P management under partially observable information and economic uncertainty? (2) How might fertilizer and crop price volatility influence a transition to a higher proportion of mined P, and what role do risk preferences play? (3) How can technologies that improve information on legacy P or expand its bioavailability improve net economic returns to crop production and limit environmental damages from P loss?

Project PI: Justin Baker

Co-PIs: Jordan Kern, Ziqian Gong, Rebecca Muenich, Jim Elser, Cary Strickland, Chris Wade, Petr Havlík

Modeling phosphorus (P) consumption patterns and flows in the global food system, the largest driver of P flows from source to sink, is a core component of Theme 3 (regional and global scale) and critical to STEPS 25-in-25 vision. Systems model can project how market, environmental and policy changes affect regional P balances, and quantify socioeconomic tradeoffs of P interventions. In this project, we will further develop and apply a model of the global food and land use system to analyze intensive and extensive margin land use responses to different market, policy, and environmental change drivers, with a focus on P consumption and technology choices. New analysis will explore market dependencies between key agricultural supply and demand regions, improving methods for capturing global-to-local scale dependencies between agricultural markets and regional/local P fertilizer consumption choices. We analyze P interventions and policy incentives in the U.S. in the context of a changing global food system that is sensitive to disruption from climate change and paradigm shifts driven by policy and technological advancement. Iterative modeling of policy scenarios across regions and spatial scales will capture dependencies between global markets and local management realities. We will further advance systems modeling of P interventions by highlighting tradeoffs and synergies between global nitrogen and carbon management policies that could affect optimal P intervention strategies in the U.S. Finally, we will support STEPS Roadmapping efforts through scenario modeling around specific interventions such as reduced P consumption from food waste.  

Project PI: Gail Jones

Co-PIs: Christine Ogilvie Hendren, John Classen, Brooke Mayer, Maude Cuchiara, Anna-Maria Marshall, Megan Ennes

This research examines how students navigate graduate education in a convergence research context. Specifically, we are documenting students’ research experiences at the convergence boundary. Research questions include: How does a student’s self-efficacy and academic self-concept change as a result of working in a transdisciplinary team?, What are the experiences of students from underrepresented groups in the STEPS research and education?, What are the challenges and barriers that students experience as they work in the convergence science environment? and, How do phosphorus sustainability researchers define and characterize phosphorus sustainability? By documenting students’ experiences in this unusual research environment, we will inform the design of efficacious programs for convergent education. Gathering expert perspectives of phosphate sustainability will inform the design of new courses and curricula. Finally, we will support new forms of graduate education that prepare a new workforce to tackle difficult, sustainability challenges that face citizens globally.

Project PI: Gail Jones

Co-PIs: Sherine Obare, Christine Ogilvie Hendren, John Classen, Brooke Mayer, Maude Cuchiara, Tiffany Rybiski

To prepare the next generation of students who can research and create a more sustainable P cycle, we must educate students for this unique convergent science and engineering context. Furthermore, there is a significant need for the creation and integration of P instructional materials. Currently the state and national standards do not highlight the role of phosphate in the environment and there are very few instructional investigations available for teachers to use. This proposed work will develop instructional activities and provide workshops for teachers that can be instrumental in recruiting the next generation of students and researchers and make teachers aware of the need to integrate phosphorus concepts into their science curriculum.

Project PI: Khara Grieger

Co-PIs: Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Gail Jones, Kim Bourne, Alison Deviney, Jim Elser

Engaging stakeholders in STEPS research is one of the Center’s core pillars. By engaging and interacting with stakeholders, our research, decisions, and resulting outcomes will be able to better respond to and meet stakeholder priorities and needs while addressing the challenges of phosphorus sustainability. This project develops written guidance, training videos, in-person and remote training modules, tailored assistance for PIs in select projects, and manuscripts for publication to help STEPS researchers identify best practices for co-creating sustainability solutions through consistent, structured, and inclusive approaches to stakeholder engagement. Overall, this project serves as a strategic and cost-effective approach to ensure STEPS researchers implement best practices for engaging stakeholders while also investing in critical ‘human-infrastructure’ of the Center. This project also aligns with numerous calls for integrating stakeholder needs in research efforts to ensure sustainable phosphorus management and connects to the P flow diagram in several areas, including those related to the loss and recovery of P in urban systems, surface waters, and in natural ecosystems.

Project PI: Christine Ogilvie Hendren

Co-PIs: Jay Rickabaugh, Bob Swarthout, Michael Hambourger, Anne Fanatico, Shea Tuberty, Matt Ogwu, Kimberly Bourne

The Enabling Undergraduate-driven Convergent Research toward an Appalachian Highlands Triple Bottom Line Scenario Site project will leverage Appalachian’s institutional strengths in teacher-scholarship, its unique location, and its expertise in integration to advance the STEPS mission by convening a transdisciplinary team of faculty and undergraduate students with the following goal: 1) to develop and implement a model for transdisciplinary research and education that enhances PUI participation within a large, distributed research network such as STEPS, 2) to use this model to generate and integrate P-flow data and knowledge toward the characterization of the North Carolina High Country as a unique (to STEPS) Triple Bottom Line (TBL) site, enabling critical investigations of P flows, as well as the decisions and practices that influence them, in headwater regions and in a rural setting dominated by smallholder agricultural practices, and 3) to integrate the App State Faculty and STEPS Scholars into the wider STEPS network including stakeholders and other universities, piloting convergence education and developing a pipeline of future trainees from a student body with over 25% rural and 35% first generation students.

Project PI: Yaroslava Yingling

Co-PIs: Rada Chirkova, Cranos Williams

The goal of this project is to design a new heterogeneous data workflow for the integration of diverse heterogeneous data from all STEPS Themes for the convergent design of novel and effective materials, technologies, and strategies for phosphorus capture, decomposition, and modification. We are building a continuous workflow to collect and curate data from various sources, designing a database that includes simulations, experimental characterization data, and outcomes across STEPS, and applying ML algorithms to guide the team in discovery and research.

Project PI: John Classen

Co-PIs: Brooke Mayer, Jacob Jones, Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Alison Deviney, Maude Cuchiara

The project’s purpose is to design and populate a virtual learning resource called the Convergence Classroom by creating up to ten learning modules that provide training to STEPS scholars beyond their disciplinary home. This resource is needed to ensure that, despite their broad disciplinary backgrounds, STEPS scholars achieve meaningful understanding of phosphorus sustainability through the use of convergence boundary objects like the P flow diagram and how the research contributes to the STEPS 25-in-25 vision. Potential module topics include: Introduction to P, Convergence Research, Stakeholder Engagement for P Sustainability, (General) P Chemistry, P Soil Biogeochemistry, Sustainable P in Plants, On-Farm P Fertilizer Management, P in Wastewater Treatment, and Urban-Scale Issues in P Management.

Project PI: Cary Strickland

Co-PIs: Justin Baker, Jessica Man, Taylor Moot

Roadmapping activities will be designed to solicit input from actors across the food value chain (food companies, policymakers, food retailers, farmers, and more) about which existing impact opportunities from the STEPS roadmap (25-in-25: A Roadmap Toward U.S. Phosphorus Sustainability) are most relevant to them and how the actions from the roadmap or further actions should be operationalized. From this input, we’ll produce stakeholder-specific action plans, similar to the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance’s twelve-step program, for food companies and policymakers who want to align their actions with the STEPS vision.

Project PI: Maude Cuchiara

Co-PIs: Alison Deviney, Brooke Mayer, John Classen, Gail Jones, Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Eric McLamore, Tiffany Rybiski

STEPS supports 15 students each summer for ten weeks through a multi-institutional Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Students begin the summer together at a one-week orientation/boot-camp. Here, students learn more about the Center and the wicked problem of phosphorus sustainability. Students also get hands-on time in different lab settings. During the remaining nine weeks, students work on independent research projects within the Center under the mentorship of STEPS Scholars and faculty. Students are placed on projects that align with their research and career interests at one of the nine STEPS academic institutions. In addition to research projects in STEPS laboratories, all REU participants learn skills in convergence research through a collaborative cohort project. Considering the long-term nature of the “25-in-25” vision, at least five REU positions are targeted for applicants who indicate future career plans in farming or related agricultural professions, forming a Research Experience for Future Farmers (REF) track within the program. REF-track participants are placed in labs/projects supportive of their interests, are co-mentored by a research mentor and an agricultural extension faculty member, and are provided opportunities to present farmer perspectives to the REU cohort.