BOZEMAN — A Montana State University undergraduate has won a prestigious fellowship from the National Science Foundation that will fuel her ongoing research in resilient and sustainable city infrastructure.

Abigail Murray, a senior who is double majoring in civil and environmental engineering, was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship earlier this month. The sought-after fellowship provides funding for three years with a $34,000 annual living stipend plus $12,000 per year to cover tuition and fees.

"It's really exciting to have this opportunity," said Murray, who will enroll this fall in the Construction, Energy and Sustainable Infrastructure doctoral program in University of Washington's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “This fellowship allows me the freedom to do my own projects and follow my own interests.”

Since her junior year, Murray has contributed to multiple research projects related to developing innovative construction materials in the lab of Adrienne Phillips, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering.

"Abbey is so motivated, and I know she'll be successful at whatever she puts her mind to," Phillips said.

Murray, who grew up in the city of Murrieta in southern California, was involved with MSU's chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which develops water and sanitation projects in Kenya, before realizing she was drawn to doing research. When Phillips mentioned to her class that there were a couple openings in her lab for student researchers, Murray jumped at the chance.

“It turns out that, most of the time, all it takes to start doing research is sending an email to a professor,” Murray said. "If I could go back and change anything, it would be to do that a couple semesters earlier. I’m really thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had to do research here."

Murray started by working on a project led by Chelsea Heveran, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, to develop modular building bricks using microbes and fungi to bind together local dirt or sand. She worked closely with two K-12 teachers participating in a Research Experience for Teachers program to make sample bricks, break them down and then see if they could be reassembled with the biological agents.

"Abbey is a great example of how undergraduates are such an important part of research at MSU," said Phillips, a co-leader on the project. "She put forth original ideas, planned experiments, performed them in the lab and presented the results. She contributed an amazing amount to our project."

During the summer after her junior year, Murray took advantage of an exchange program to remotely contribute to a project at Germany's University of Hamburg about improved stormwater management technologies for reducing environmental impacts. Upon returning to MSU, she received support through MSU's Undergraduate Scholars Program to work independently with Phillips, as well as Catherine Kirkland, assistant professor in the civil engineering department, on a project to develop porous bricks embedded with microbes that could filter harmful nutrients from stormwater.

Through these experiences her interests started to shift from the smaller scale of individual materials to the much larger scale of city infrastructure, Murray said. At UW she plans to work with professors Bethany Gordon and Jessica Kaminsky on research related to designing elements of the built environment, including water and transportation systems, to be less fossil fuel-intensive and more resilient to extreme weather events anticipated due to climate change. Ultimately, she hopes to address those issues through working for an organization or as a consultant, she said.

Her research at MSU has been instrumental in helping her find her career interests and prepare for the experience that awaits now that she has won the fellowship. “It has been a huge asset to my education and has given me skills that make me feel confident going into a Ph.D. program,” she said.

-by Marshall Swearingen, MSU News Service -