Marist's Newest Goldwater Scholar

Matthew Ruis '15 will research the effects of different riverbed substrates on oyster populations

POUGHKEEPSIE (April 26, 2013)  – When sophomore Matthew Ruis was a child growing up in Monroe, N.Y., some 40 miles southwest of Poughkeepsie, his grandfather took him to the Hudson River for his first fishing trip. His catch that day consisted only of a length of cable and an old boot, but as far as his love for the Hudson, he was hooked.

Now a dual major in Environmental Science and Biology, Matthew's interest in protecting the health of the Hudson River inspired a research proposal that has earned him a prestigious and highly competitive Goldwater Scholarship, the nation's top award for undergraduates planning to pursue careers in science, math, and engineering.Gagnon, Ruis, DuMond

Matthew (pictured at right with faculty research adviser Zofia Gagnon and Jim DuMond, dean of the School of Science) is the fourth Marist student in eight years to win a Goldwater Scholarship. He plans to ultimately pursue a Ph.D. in environmental toxicology, focusing on the effect of man-made toxins on ecosystems.

"Everyone at Marist, and particularly those of us in the School of Science, are proud of Matthew and celebrate his great accomplishment," said DuMond. "He continues a long tradition at Marist of excellence in undergraduate research. I know his current research and future work will help make for a healthier environment." 

Concerned about the potential environmental impact of the planned replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, Matthew, this summer, will conduct research into the effects that different riverbed substrates have on the health of oyster populations. Specifically, Matthew’s research project focuses on the impacts of replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge on the beds and habitat of nearby oysters in the Hudson River. 

From the time he learned of the Goldwater program and decided to develop a proposal, Matthew said, "I knew I wanted to do something on the Hudson River." His focus turned to the potential impacts of the new Tappan Zee Bridge after he learned that the plan calls for dredging as many as 13 acres of riverbed in what is critical oyster habitat. Vice President for Academic Affairs Thom Wermuth, a distinguished Hudson River Valley historian and a member of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's panel reviewing designs for the new bridge, gave Matthew a copy of The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky's book on the oyster's central role in the early history of New York City. The book further deepened Matthew's interest in the importance of oysters to the Hudson River.

Matthew's summer research will take place in the aquatic science lab in the Historic Cornell Boathouse, where tanks of water pumped directly from the Hudson River will allow Matthew to replicate actual oyster habitat. Specifically, Matthew will  study the effects of different substrates of riverbeds (sand, gravel, silt, concrete, metal, oyster shells) on the growth and survival of oysters. These conditions will be designed to mirror those found after the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge and completed in the Marist College Hudson River Lab. These studies will measure the effects of conditions on oyster shells' thickness, cracks, coloration, and size. Chemical composition of the oyster shells and soft tissue will be studied using atomic absorption (AA) and inductively coupled plasma (ICP). 

Though only a sophomore, Matthew has already conducted research on the Marist campus focused on mitigating the growth of the invasive Japanese Knotweed; at the Mohonk Preserve's Daniel Smiley Research Center in New Paltz; and, under the supervision of Associate Professor of Environmental Science Zofia Gagnon, on silver nanoparticle absorption in Sphagnum  magellanicum taken from a bog in Rhinebeck. 

About the Goldwater Scholarship

As expressed by the Goldwater Foundation, its purpose is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields.  This year, 271 Goldwater Scholars were selected from a field of 1,107 mathematics, science and engineering students, virtually all of whom have the Ph.D. as their long-term academic goal.  The one and two year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by in 1986. The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. Since its inception in 1989, the Foundation has awarded over 6,550 scholarships.