Xue Feng outdoors

Xue Feng Receives NSF Career Award

XUE FENG, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, received an NSF CAREER Award. The awards are given to outstanding junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar, excelling at and integrating both research and education. The competitive award comes with a federal five-year grant for research and education activities.

Feng’s research has two main goals—to discover new ways that water shapes the ecosystem response to climate change, and to use that new knowledge to advance modeling of Earth systems and climate predictions.

Global water, carbon, and energy cycles are affected by plants. Plants use water and carbon dioxide (CO2) to photosynthesize and grow. CO2 enters plants through stomata, small openings on leaves. Water enters plants through roots and is transported to leaves through the vascular systems. How efficiently the stomata and vascular systems supply water and CO2 to the plant—through a process called plant hydraulic regulation—depends on a range of environmental conditions (for example, dryness in the soil and in the air) and plant characteristics. Feng’s project will use mathematical optimization of plant performance to understand how hydraulic regulation impacts stomata (at the leaf scale), carbon use and storage (at the whole-plant scale), and spatial distribution of plant types (at the ecosystem scale) over different timescales of environmental change.

New insights into how plants cope with changes in environmental conditions will be used to incorporate plant hydraulic regulation into models to bring about more accurate predictions of global water, carbon, and energy cycles. Feng’s project also includes educational aspects: an interactive makerspace exhibit and a summer camp module for middle school students at the Bell Museum, plus new course modules for undergraduate and graduate students to understand the problem of plant water use in changing environments.