scientists

Thank You, We Couldn’t Do It Without You

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By Lina Younes

Science is at the heart of everything we do at EPA. That’s basically our mantra. Scientific research provides us with the key information we need to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment. Furthermore it gives us the knowledge to better understand the risks to human health and ecosystems and the means to develop innovative solutions to prevent pollution in order to achieve a healthier world. In sum, science is essential to the Agency’s decision-making process.

However, science is not this abstract theory that exists in a vacuum. It is part of our daily lives.  Scientific knowledge does not just happen by osmosis. Scientific research is done by individuals, men and women scientists and engineers who are the true drivers of the Agency. In order to recognize their contributions, we have featured some of our researchers on our English and Spanish web pages. I highly recommend that you visit these pages to learn how they got started in their careers and their important contributions to environmental protection.

Personally, I hope the profiles of our scientists will inspire the next generation of professionals who will dedicate their lives to careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). In reading their profiles, we see diverse individuals with varied backgrounds who shared many common interests and goals. It is never too late to start.

And once again, to our scientists, thank you for what you do to make this a healthier and greener world.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Scientists Working For You

By Rey Rivera

When you woke up this morning, did you ponder for a few minutes about how science contributes to your life from the moment you open your eyes (and even while you’re asleep)? I bet you didn’t.

Many of us go from sleeping in a room with clean air, depending on an alarm clock to wake up, taking a warm shower with clean water, to enjoying a healthy breakfast without even stopping for a second to think about all the scientific knowledge that is put in practice for our benefit and comfort throughout the day.

Among the scientists that contribute to the enjoyment of your daily life are the thousands of scientists who work here in the EPA. In our case, we analyze scientific facts and provide you with easily understandable information to help you protect your environment, your health and your family’s health.

Would you like to learn about protecting your family from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, or about asthma triggers?  Or what about pesticides, or radon? Would you like to know more about new technologies to cleanup sites contaminated with hazardous wastes? Or what about water quality and water conservation?

Those and many other questions could be answered with a few clicks on EPA’s website, talking with our experts, or checking out ongoing scientific projects in our Office of Research & Development.

While in school, the realization of how important science is in our lives and how much it could help others lead me in the direction of becoming a scientist myself. My 25 career in EPA has been a very gratifying experience that gives me the satisfaction of being able to put in practice my scientific training to contribute to the quality of life of many people.

Now, in this busy life that many of us have –enjoying the amazing products that science give us– I invite you to pause for a moment, look around you and realize just how much we owe to the knowledge that science discovers and put into productive use. And if you cross paths with a scientist, please say thank you… I’m sure he or she is very pleased to be working for you.

About the author: Reiniero (“Rey”) Rivera started working for the EPA in 1987 as an environmental engineer in the Chicago regional office and currently works in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in Washington DC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Working With the Best of the Best

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Katie Lubinsky

Two of our very own EPA scientists, Dr. Gayle Hagler and Dr. David Reif, received the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers … and I am working with one of them on various communications projects!

Dr. Gayle Hagler—the award-winning scientist I’m working with—was nominated for leading research in the development and use of new technologies (electric vehicles and GPS) to measure and map air pollutant emissions near roadside locations. Such research also looks at how barriers, like sound walls and vegetation, reduce the distance air pollutants travel from highways to nearby communities.

My work with Dr. Hagler involves developing a video about her near-roadway mobile emission research, interviewing her and her colleagues. As part of that work, I will get to take a ride in the mobile measuring vehicle—a converted, electric-powered PT Cruiser with the air measuring instruments conveniently placed in the back. Along with the video project, Dr. Haglar has worked with me on a writing assignment involving EPA black carbon research.

I can easily say how excited I am about working with such a gifted and well-known scientist. To be around and work with a recipient of such a prestigious award makes me realize the unique experience I am having at the EPA where such innovative and intelligent people work. I believe this is a story I will share with others both now and in the future, and one that will open my eyes to her research and how I’m contributing through public outreach.

Dr. Hagler’s co-honoree is EPA’s Dr. David Reif, who was nominated for his work developing tools for organizing and profiling chemicals for potential toxicity to human health and the environment, as well as studying childhood asthma in order to develop more personalized diagnoses, management and treatments. He is also an active member in the community, teaching at a local university and speaking publically to others about science. Dr. Reif has even blogged here on Science Wednesday!

About the Author: Katie Lubinsky is a student contractor in communications at the Office of Research and Development in Research Triangle Park.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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OnAir: Three Scientists Define One Elusive Phrase: “Oxidative Stress”

It has been long known that air pollution causes harmful health effects in people. But scientists have only recently begun to uncover some of the mechanisms behind this causal relationship, a necessary step in understanding how to best regulate air pollution and protect human health.

One key mechanism that EPA-funded research helped identify is oxidative stress. Though it is the subject of scores of scientific papers, finding a single, comprehensible definition of the term is a surprisingly arduous task.

During an October visit to the Southern California Particle Center, I asked three scientists to define oxidative stress in the context of air pollution. Here’s what they had to say:

Arthur Cho, PhD, Organic Chemist
“As the name implies, it stresses the cell and promotes the cell to secrete chemicals that stimulate an immune response, such as symptoms of asthma. The idea is that you’re exposed to air pollutants, the pollutants enter your lungs, components of the pollutants react with components in your lungs and these potentially harmful chemical reactions are initiated.”

Ralph Delfino, MD, PhD, Epidemiologist:
“It can be thought of as a biochemical imbalance in which large molecules are oxidized to the point where they become either toxic or, in the case of important biochemicals, dysfunctional. It induces a cascade of events that leads to inflammation and, at its worst, cell death. Inflammation, as seen in immune responses to bacteria or virus, can be a good thing. But there are types of inflammation, like arthritis for example, that are not good. Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation in lungs that worsens asthma, or inflammation in blood vessels that leads to atherosclerosis.”

Andre Nel, MD, PhD, Immunologist:
“The easiest way to describe oxidative stress is to give an analogy: If you bite an apple and you hold it up in the air it will go brown after a few minutes, same with a banana. What you observe there is decay in the fruits’ tissues because oxygen radicals in the air are attacking their cell membranes. The same principle applies in humans, where oxidative stress is damage to organs and cells by oxygen radicals we are exposed to.”

Next I’ll share some surprising research I encountered at the Southern California Particle Center and report from the second leg of my tour- Harvard.

Editor’s Note: Look for more of Becky’s “On Air” posts this Science Wednesday about other EPA-funded scientists she has recently met on her travels.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications.

My favorite anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania years ago, David B. Stout (famously, in his playful words, “not a Leakey lover,” but that’s another story), insisted that scientists are culture bound by their own culture—unable to fluently interact with, or even fully understand, other cultures. This teaching came to mind yesterday during a meeting in EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional office to begin defining a new website about “green infrastructure;” make that “natural infrastructure;” no, perhaps it’s “limited impact development?” or was it “green communities,” or “green buildings.”

My sincere motto at such meetings, of course, is “I’m from the public affairs office and I’m here to help.” Indeed, as the regional web content coordinator, my job is to help make our websites useful, targeted communications tools that follow EPA’s web standards and best practices. One of these best practices is content coordination, to minimize repetition, confusion and gaps among related agency web content.

I tried not to show how much the conversation made my head hurt, among a group of earnest, cooperative colleagues who are eager to help developers, planners, elected officials, public works managers, environmentalists and the public guide sustainable development. With such a diverse audience, and so many EPA programs individually focused on different slices of the green development pie, it unfortunately wasn’t my first experience where web communications considerations (the tail) forced us to confront the overlap or gaps between policies and programs (the dog).  Shouldn’t it work the other way? Wouldn’t it better serve EPA, our stakeholders and the environment if related programs were more clearly defined, or combined before turning our attention to public outreach? (These questions aren’t rhetorical; please answer them.)

Our group yesterday didn’t know enough about policy integration our agency may be doing to bring the principles and virtues of these green initiatives together to better serve the many concerned external people. As a result–and this is more intriguing challenge than complaint—we’re seeking some manner of content integration as we conceive and write a new website.

Professor Stout wouldn’t be surprised by what we face, but may I ask, dear reader, do you, too, see what we face as the tail wagging the dog?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.