Studying Nature’s Recycling Crew

GWU Senior Hunter Warren Gains Research Experience While Helping Campus Reduce Solid Waste

Studying Nature’s Recycling Crew

While gaining hands-on experience in research methods, Hunter Warren worked to reduce the amount of solid waste produced by Gardner-Webb University and Sodexo Dining Services. His study helped to improve the campus vermicomposting process—using earthworms to consume organic waste.

Warren, a senior biology major and chemistry minor, was one of 15 Gardner-Webb students who received a grant in 2019 from the GWU Undergraduate Research Scholars Program to conduct research for five weeks. Working on his topic for 40 hours a week, Warren was mentored by Dr. David Judge, professor of biology. Judge helped him with the field research and connected him with an expert in vermicomposting.

“The vermiculture process allows for the conversion of what would otherwise be unnecessary waste into inexpensive, mineral-rich potting soil for flower beds,” Warren shared. “By giving Gardner-Webb its own, self-sustaining supply of mineral-rich potting soil, the University will be able to cut expenses to outside sources for such material.”

Through his research, Warren sought to determine the red wiggler populations’ impact on the conversion of vegetable waste into usable compost. “My research focused on a means of sampling so to estimate these populations, one of which involved European nightcrawlers as test subjects for a mark and recapture method to be utilized later for the red wigglers,” Warren described. “The mark and recapture method proved to be the most inefficient means of sampling, while a method of feeling for naturally occurring clumps of the earthworms in the vermibeds before separating them from the soil matrix is the most efficient process of sampling thus far. There are still plenty of sampling methods that need to be looked into, which I hope to accomplish with independent study and the next generation of Undergraduate Scholars.”

Warren plans to attend medical school after he graduates from GWU. From learning how to examine literature to communicating and coordinating with multiple groups of people to accomplish a goal, Warren said the experience has given him the confidence and skills to tackle future research.