Written by Hannah LaCava
When Garey Fox was asked to apply for a department head position at North Carolina State University, he knew that “NC State was too good to turn down.” Fox, a researcher in water resource engineering and hydrology, came to North Carolina from Oklahoma State University. He accepted the job of department head of Biological and Agricultural Engineering with the mind to make a difference and a lasting mark. One of his goals as department head is to improve student programs to better engage and assist students.
“I wouldn’t be in academia without the opportunity to interact with students,” Fox explains.
Fox is starting to build an undergraduate scholars program at NC State. This program offers students the opportunity to work with a distinguished company for a semester, receive a partial stipend to assist with financial responsibilities, and partner with a faculty member mentor. Fox participated in undergraduate research himself as a student and praises the opportunity and experience.
“I would not be here without undergraduate research,” Fox notes.
Fox’s main areas of expertise include surface water and groundwater interaction with specific applications for stream restoration, streambank erosion and failure, and the design of riparian buffers and vegetative filter strips. His work with surface water and groundwater interaction addresses research that at times has “largely been ignored until now.” For example, pinpointing the role of soil moisture in soil erosion is important. No one wants to operate near a water’s edge and wake up one morning to find that edge gone. He collaborates with researchers to study the jet erosion test, which uses a small device to quantify the erodibility of soils with varying water contents. The device will help model and predict streambank erosion and failure.
Fox’s research on vegetative filter strips — land and plants used to inhibit water runoff — and preferential flow in riparian buffers is another research project of importance at NC State. Preferential flow is the rapid movement of water through cracks in soil made by earthworms, plant roots and other causes. In the past, designing vegetative filter strips has been “an art form,” Fox says, a hit-or-miss guessing game of where vegetative strips should go and how much pesticide they can effectively capture. Fox created a quantitative formula for pesticide trapping by filter strips and hopes to incorporate preferential flow into the design models to more accurately predict the rate at which they can limit runoff and transport to streams and rivers.
“We showed them that you can quantify the effectiveness of vegetative filters trips,” he says “if the equations are built around the processes. People are already using our foundation and our model and equations in practice today.”