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News Undergraduate Research Opportunities

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Dr. Rodrigo Vargas seeking assistants for wetlands research funded by National Science Foundation
Rodrigo Vargas

​Dr. Rodrigo Vargas at the St. Jones Reserve research site.

Dr. Rodrigo Vargas, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), is currently seeking summer undergraduate research assistants, and AAP students are encouraged to apply!

Dr. Vargas's research focuses on carbon-exchange processes in tidal coastal wetlands. He is the recent recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Award, which has allowed him to establish an outdoor laboratory at the St. Jones Reserve near Dover. The St. Jones Reserve is a component of the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) and part of the National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR). 

Research assistant positions are paid; salary will be based on experience and standards set by the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. If you are thinking of majoring in biology, agriculture, plant and soil sciences, or another related field, check out the project descriptions below and consider applying — this is a very rare opportunity to work on an NSF-funded project as an undergraduate and gain invaluable research experience! Interested students should contact Dr. David Satran at

Project 1: Near-Surface Remote Sensing to Monitor Phenology Changes in Experimental Rice Paddies

Near-Surface Remote Sensing (NSRS) is a non-destructive technique to identify and monitor changes of plant physiology and phenology. NSRS can collect information at high temporal resolution (>1 min) over specific spots. In this project, we use NSRS techniques to monitor changes in the phenology of experimental rice paddies submitted at different water saturation conditions during the growing season (June to September). The main activities for this project are: a) to install NSRS sensors over approximately 12 rice paddies (i.e, NDVI: Normalized Difference Vegetation Index and PRI: Photochemical Reflectance Index), b) to collect manual measurements of chlorophyll with a hand-held instrument and c) to collect hyperspectral measurements every week during the growing season of 2018.

As part of the data processing, the main activities are to prepare, process and analyze the data collected during the 2018 growing season, as well as the hyperspectral measurements collected in 2017. All data processing and analyses are done in R package. We are waiting as a potential result to identify differences in the data collected for every rice paddy that could be related with specific environmental conditions. 

Time requirements for this project:

  • During NSRS installation: 4-5 full days (early June)
  • After NSRS installation:
    • Weekly measurements: 1 day, around 5-6 hours
    • During the rest of the week: 4 days, 4 hours per day
  • To uninstall NSRS sensors: 2 full days (around second week of September)

Location: Newark campus

Project 2: Hyperspectral Measurements to Monitor Pigments and Nutrients Composition in Temperate Tidal Salt marshes

Phenology changes in tidal saltmarshes are related with changes in vegetation pigments and nutrients composition. Near-Surface Remote Sensing (NSRS) techniques, such as hyperspectral measurements, are non-destructive methods to identify and monitor changes of plant physiology and phenology. In this project, we use hyperspectral measurements between 350 nm to 900 nm (1 nm of spectral resolution) and 700 nm to 820 nm (0.1 nm of spectral resolution) to derive vegetation indexes and to identify and monitor changes in chlorophyll, carotenoids, nitrogen and silica in tidal saltmarshes of St. Jones Reserve, Del. 

The main activities for this project are: a) to extract vegetation pigments in the lab (from previous collections) and b) to prepare, process and analyze hyperspectral measurements collected from September 2016 to December 2017. All data processes and analyses are done in R package. We are waiting as potential results to identify vegetation indexes that can help to explain changes in phenology/physiology of tidal saltmarshes of Delaware. 

Time requirement for this project: 

  • 4 hours per day during the summer (early July to early October)

Location: Newark campus and field trips to the St. Jones Reserve near Dover, Del.

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Exciting coastal-wetlands research opportunities now available with Dr. Rodrigo Vargas of UD's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; AAP students encouraged to apply.

​Exciting coastal-wetlands research opportunities now available with Dr. Rodrigo Vargas of UD's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; AAP students encouraged to apply.

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Undergraduate Research Opportunities
rodrigo vargas ud associate in arts program tidal coastal wetlands
  • Associate in Arts Program
  • UD Academic Center
  • 300 N. Orange St.
  • Wilmington, DE 19801
  • Phone: (302) 571-5395
  • Fax: (302) 657-5198