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News and Headlines: CWU Researcher Receives NSF Grant to Study Soap Lake

CWU Researcher Receives NSF Grant to Study Soap Lake

July 18, 2002

ELLENSBURG, Wash. - The National Science Foundation has awarded an $840,000 grant to Central Washington University for continued research at Soap Lake.

Dr. Holly Pinkart, CWU biology professor and a member of the Soap Lake Conservancy Science Advisory Board, is the principal investigators for the grant. The three-year NSF funding will allow for development of a microbial observatory at the lake.

"Soap Lake is an excellent choice for an observatory because of its unique chemistry," Pinkart says.

The lake, created by the Glacial Missoula Floods more than 10,000 years ago, is atypical in that it consists of two separate water layers that have not mixed for more than 2,000 years. Although both layers are alkaline, the lower layer is more saline. The lake also contains sulfide, which is generally considered toxic for most life forms. Even so, it supports thriving communities of algae, zooplankton and bacteria.

The observatory will allow for study of the ecology and the relatively unknown microorganisms that thrive in the extreme environment, and determine how they affect, and are affected by, the geochemistry of Soap Lake.

Results generated by the project will supplement data available in the search for biological activity on Mars and extra-solar terrestrial environments.

"The observatory will likely lead to discovery of novel microorganisms that may be useful in industry and biotechnology," Pinkart adds. "Additionally, this project will allow for significant involvement of undergraduate students."

Plans are being made for a summer course at Soap Lake about the biology of the lake for undergraduate and graduate students, along with teachers from high schools, community colleges and four-year institutions.

Pinkart will be among the speakers at the Saline Lakes Science Conference Aug. 26-27 in Soap Lake. Additional information about the conference is available at

Contact: Dr. Holly Pinkart (509-963-2710/fax 509-963-2730/e-mail:

Central Washington University is a master's degree-granting institution with approximately 10,000 students and 1,500 faculty and staff. More than 160 undergraduate and master's degrees are offered. Founded in 1891, the Ellensburg campus is located in the heart of Washington State, nestled between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River. Since 1975, CWU has served the needs of placebound students at six university centers throughout the state. CWU is an AA/EEO Title IX Institution.

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