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Posted 3/22/2016

Release no. V-9-16

Public Affairs

Dr. Catherine Thomas of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi has been selected as the 2016 Minority in Research Science Emerald Honoree Most Promising Scientist Award at the 30th Annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“It’s definitely an honor to be selected, but to me the greatest honor is that my branch chief would nominate me,” Thomas said. “We’re a close-knit branch and [Branch Chief Dr. Andy Martin] really knows our strengths and where we can be the most productive. He knows that I love being in the lab. I love doing research.”

It’s that passion for research that stands out to Martin and ERDC leadership, who nominated Thomas for the BEYA Emerald Award. Martin sees Thomas’ love of research as a critical ingredient for the future efforts of ERDC, which has a history of groundbreaking research and innovation.

Thomas grew up in Port Gibson, Mississippi, just a short drive down Highway 61 from the laboratories where she works today. She first joined ERDC in 2006 as a graduate student at Alcorn State University after seeing a flier for student jobs at ERDC. Initially, she provided administrative support in ERDC’s Environmental Laboratory but was soon presented the opportunity to work on research.

At first, Thomas supported other projects as she completed her master’s degree and work on research that would shape her doctoral thesis.

Over the course of the next few years, Thomas developed her expertise on the use of plants to reduce the migration of munitions contaminants, such as explosives and heavy metals. Her research has helped validate the use of “green” ammo, the M855A-1 Enhanced Performance Round all-copper round, already in use by the Army to reduce environmental impacts on firing ranges.

With 10 years at ERDC, Thomas is continuing to conduct important research. After extensive work on how different plants affect the transport of heavy metal contamination, Thomas is looking at another problem that has far-reaching impacts on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, water resources and the environment.

It’s not just her innovative research that Thomas is eager to share. She participates in community outreach efforts, such as the Jackson State University’ “UNITE” camp, a pre-collegiate summer program for high school students from groups historically underrepresented and underserved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and is a vocal champion for STEM careers, using her own story as a catalyst for young students to explore their options.

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center is one of the most diverse research organizations in the world, with seven laboratories located in four states and more than 2,100 employees, more than $1 billion in world class facilities and an annual program exceeding $1 billion. The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center supports the Department of Defense and other agencies in military and civilian projects. Principal research mission areas include Soldier support, military installations, environment, water resources and information technology.