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Graduate Student highlights: 5 Questions with Katie Rocci

This is part 1 of 5 highlights of NREL grad students who do research in National Parks. Hear from NREL/ GDPE grad student Katie Rocci, who is working in Rocky Mountain National Park as part of her PhD Research!

Katie Rocci
Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park

Q1: Can you tell us about your research in a few sentences? 

A: I’m studying whether nitrogen pollution from the increasingly high number vehicles in Rocky Mountain National Park is affecting roadside ecosystems. I do this by collecting nitrogen from the air and studying its chemistry, and then studying ecosystems close to and far from roads in the park.

Q2: Favorite part of what you do?

A: Besides getting to hike in Rocky for work, which is awesome, I really love doing work that could potentially improve park management.

Q3: Was this spring/summer weird because of COVID and how so?

A: Since my research is about pollution from cars, we didn’t know if enough people would be coming to the parks for my research to even make sense! But people came, and more of them were driving their cars, since nobody wanted to use the bus, so it worked out!

Q4: Craziest field story?

A: I needed to pee while hiking down from a field site and just as I was about to pull down my pants, I hear something rustling nearby. I look up and there was a baby moose ~10ft away. The question was, where is the mom? I peed somewhere else.

Q5: How will this research save the world?

National Parks always represent a balance of conservation and beauty. By going to visit National Parks, folks may be damaging them. My work will evaluate whether vehicle pollution is part of that damage. If it is, the park can take steps to limit the number of cars, for example, by mandating bus usage (when we’re not in a global pandemic).