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Director Named for Sierra Nevada Research Institute

July 16, 2002

MERCED, CA. — Stanislaus County native Samuel J. Traina, Ph.D., a highly respected environmental scientist, has been appointed as Founding Director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California, Merced.

Prior to beginning his UC Merced duties on July 1, 2002, Traina was a professor of soil physical chemistry in the School of Natural Resources, a professor of environmental science, a professor of geological sciences and co-director of the Environmental Molecular Science Institute at The Ohio State University. In addition, the Patterson native was awarded a Soil Science Society of America fellowship in 2001.

Supported by more than $8 million in federal grants over his career to date, Traina's current research focuses on the fate and impact of pollutants in soils, sediments and natural waters and remediation of contaminated soils and sediments. Most recently he was named as co-principal investigator for Ohio State's new $5.8 million National Science Foundation center to study soil, sediment and aerosol pollutants and received several grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to research methods to clean up soils contaminated by nuclear weapons production.

“Sam Traina comes to UC Merced with superior credentials as both a teacher and researcher in the natural and environmental sciences,” said UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. “He brings a proven ability to develop partnerships for research, an interdisciplinary approach and a thorough understanding of the environmental issues facing our region, all of which are critical to the successful establishment of our first signature research institute.”

As director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), Traina is working closely with the Deans of Engineering and Natural Sciences to recruit the faculty who will hold appointments in the academic divisions and will have affiliations with UC Merced's research institutes, including the SNRI. According to Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor David Ashley, the visibility of the SNRI has been a particularly strong attraction for many prospective faculty in both the Natural Science and Engineering Divisions.

Related priorities are recruiting students for Institute-based research activities and contributing to the development of graduate programs compatible with the Institute's areas of research. Exploring the public and private funding sources to support future research projects is another of Traina's responsibilities.

His initial goals also include building and expanding relationships with University of California research units, UC-managed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and state and federal natural resource and agricultural agencies for collaborative research and education. Primary among UC Merced's existing partnerships for regionally based research is that with Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Efforts are under way to develop similar relationships with agriculture and natural resources groups in the San Joaquin Valley.

“The Sierra Nevada and the San Joaquin Valley form a wonderful, natural laboratory with a wealth of geological, ecological and cultural diversity within a relatively small area,” Traina said. “This enables UC Merced to create new knowledge which will be based on research conducted in the region and broadly applicable to a range of environments around the nation and world.”

Envisioning a wide array of Institute-based research, Traina said the public can expect to see a concerted effort by UC Merced to focus study on local ecological and environmental issues that directly impact their lives. Quality of water and air, land-use impacts, soil quality, impacts and timing of control burns, and the effect of population growth on agricultural and natural ecosystems offer a sampling of potential topics for study. Additionally, the SNRI will serve as a nexus for investigators from around the country who wish to pursue research in the Sierra and the San Joaquin Valley.

According to Traina, the Sierra Nevada Research Institute is poised to explore such new frontiers of scientific research as the role of the global carbon cycle in climate change, which is garnering strong interest from federal agencies.

“Extensive research has indicated that carbon dioxide may have a major effect on climate change,” Traina said. “Further study of the natural carbon cycle could indicate methods to store carbon in soils or other parts of natural and agricultural ecosystems, slowing climate change and positively impacting those ecosystems.”

He plans to organize the Institute around an earth-systems science model and to employ a broad-based approach to research, building innovative teams that blend investigators from an array of disciplines. These teams of students and faculty will work on issues pertinent to sustaining California's agricultural and natural resources.

“The opportunity to cultivate a natural culture of multidisciplinary education and research at UC Merced and the opportunity to create a brand new research institute at this campus are very attractive. I am doing the kind of work I love and I can't imagine a better place to do that work than UC Merced, which has brought me back home to my family in the Valley and to the Sierra Nevada, where I used to spend part of my summers,” Traina said. “As a UC alumnus and former UC research assistant, I have a strong affinity for the University of California and am pleased to be in a position to give back to the system.”

Traina received his bachelor's degree in soil resource management and his doctorate in soil chemistry from UC Berkeley, where he also served as a graduate research assistant and graduate teaching assistant. Immediately following, he moved to UC Riverside to conduct postdoctoral research and work as an assistant research soil chemist in the Department of Soil and Environmental Sciences.

First hired by Ohio State as an assistant professor of soil physical chemistry in the College of Agriculture, Traina also served as director of the Graduate Program in Environmental Sciences, chair of the University Research Committee and chair of the Graduate School Curriculum Committee during his tenure at the university.

Among the honors he has received, Traina was named as a Cox Visiting Professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University and received the Distinguished Multidisciplinary Team Research Award and the Distinguished Research Award from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. He has authored several book chapters and monographs, as well as approximately 100 refereed publications.

Traina also has served on several research panels for the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academy of Science/National Research Council and has a strong record of society service.