Scholar Tackles Slimy Project to Improve GWU Environmental Sustainability Practices

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Jacob Jackson ’19 Creates a New Vegetable Waste Disposal Process with Earthworms

An image of Summer Scholar Jacob Jackson stirring the composting bed that is full of earthworms and vegetable waste.BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—For his summer research project, one Gardner-Webb University senior enthusiastically tackled a dirty and slimy process. Jacob C. Jackson ’19 chose a socially-responsible research project for the immediate impact it would have on campus waste management. The biology major from Tryon, N.C., decided to expand the work done by a previous undergraduate scholar to improve the University’s environmental sustainability practices.

He was one of 13 GWU students who conducted research during the 2018 summer terms with a grant from the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The students worked 40 hours a week for five weeks on their projects, which they are required to present in a professional forum. Each one had a faculty mentor or collaborator who worked with them.

Jackson and his mentor, Dr. David Judge, professor of biology, created a new vegetable waste disposal process for the University with vermicomposting. “Vermicomposting uses earthworms to eat organic waste, which breaks it into smaller portions, thus making it more readily available for microorganisms to decompose the material,” Jackson described. “The process requires an ‘epigeic’ species, such as ‘Eisenia fetida,’ commonly called Red Wigglers. Epigeic earthworms reside in the surface of the soil and can also make their habitat in the duff layer, or the region formed by fallen leaves and other plant debris.”

He began by recording how much waste one bed of earthworms (vermibed) could convert into viable fertilizer/soil within a week. “Once I approximated that 19 liters (5 gallons) of vegetable waste can be converted by a single bed, Dr. David Judge and I worked to construct two additional beds,” he related. “This would enable us to intake most of the campus cafeteria’s per-consumer vegetable waste.”

An image of Jacob Jackson holding some soil from the vermicomposting bed.While helping Jackson build the vermibeds, Judge provided insight, guidance and encouragement. “If I had concept questions, questions about methods or execution of research, or even if I needed his assistance with transporting the vegetable waste, he was there,” Jackson affirmed. “We worked hands-on together for the latter portion of the summer term and had many laughs, which certainly boosted morale and allowed us to make good headway with the project.”

Jackson plans to present his findings at the Life of the Scholar Multidisciplinary Conference at Gardner-Webb and the North Carolina Academy of Science annual meeting.

Fascinated by the study of science since he was a child, Jackson wants to go into research science and work in a lab environment. “This project helped me to develop vital research experience and a glimpse of what scientific research entails,” he shared. “This experience allows me to be much more prepared for graduate school and future research endeavors. Research is an excellent way to distinguish yourself from your peers and give you the edge you need to get into an internship, graduate school, or career that you desire.”