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Come See Innovation this Weekend!

2015 April 8

Cynthia Nolt-Helms

P3 Teams hold a sign "We Love P3!"

Come see the P3 teams show innovation this weekend!

Spring is here, and there is much to look forward to in Washington, DC! Besides enjoying cherry blossoms and sunnier weather, I look forward to innovation. Odd, I know. But along with the flowers and festivals, innovative green technologies come to the DC area, too. This coming weekend, April 11-12, EPA is sponsoring the 11th Annual EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) student design competition for sustainability.

The EPA P3 Competition is an annual event for teams of graduate and undergraduate students to design solutions for environmental and sustainability challenges. Some 250 students representing 42 teams from colleges and universities across the country will be showcasing their ideas for green technologies and competing for the EPA P3 Award and a Phase II grant of up to $75,000.

These creative students, passionate about promoting a sustainable world, already have competed in the first phase of this national contest. They won a Phase I grant of $15,000 to work on their project during the school year.

Through EPA’s P3 Program, the students demonstrate their ability to work in multidisciplinary teams, navigate competition requirements, and perhaps most importantly, communicate the value of their ideas to a broad range of people. From the judges convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to the school children who may visit their exhibits, the teams will be explaining how they are taking their innovations from the drawing board to the real world for the benefit of people, to promote prosperity and to protect the planet. That’s P3!

In the interest of fairness, I don’t want to highlight any one of the competing teams. But I do get to brag about the accomplishments of past EPA P3 winners we were able to support through the program. To date, 25 percent of award winning teams have gone on to start companies or form nonprofit organizations. Through the years, faculty have used the program to develop college-level courses in sustainability where none had existed before. Because they won an EPA P3 Award, students have received other awards, funding and recognition—from coveted fellowships to investment capital to international environmental awards.

Now we’re at the beginning of a new cycle of accomplishments for a new class of P3 teams. Spring is a time of promise, and this week brings a new crop of green technologies that we think hold promise. For me and the rest of the EPA P3 team, the expo is the fun part of our jobs!

We hope you will join us. Meet the teams. Learn something about the environment you didn’t know. Explore solutions with the students.

Every year we are amazed and inspired by them. We think you will be too!

11th Annual EPA P3 Competition at the National Sustainable Design Expo:

  • Saturday, April 11, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • Sunday, April 12, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • Oronoco Bay Park, Alexandria, Virginia

About the Author: Cynthia Nolt-Helms has directed the P3 Program since 2006. A native of Oregon, she felt compelled from an early age to preserve the planet. Seeing public service as an opportunity to have a broad impact, she thought the EPA was a logical fit for her professional and personal goals. In 25+ years there, she has developed national wildlife criteria under the Clean Water Act and has led grant initiatives for clean water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Tracking Blooms from the Sky

2015 April 8

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Image of a map created with the new app.

Water quality managers can drop location pins in their water bodies of interest and the pins change colors depending on user settings.

With help from partners, EPA is going above and beyond the agency’s traditional methods of monitoring harmful algal blooms in water. EPA has joined NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to use satellite data to monitor algal blooms and develop an early warning indicator system for toxic and nuisance blooms.

Algal blooms have caused extensive problems in lakes worldwide. We saw this in August, 2014 when half a million people living in and around Toledo, Ohio were issued a water advisory alerting them to avoid all contact with Toledo drinking water after a harmful algal bloom of cyanobateria in Lake Erie had produced unsafe levels of the toxin microcystin.

Blooms like these are becoming a more frequent occurrence and are having greater impacts than ever before. The estimated annual cost of U.S. freshwater degraded by harmful algal blooms is $64 million in additional drinking water treatment, loss of recreational water usage, and decline in waterfront real estate values.

The new multi-agency effort will build on previous NASA ocean satellite sensor technologies created to study the global ocean’s microscopic algal communities. EPA researchers will provide the science that links the current and historical satellite data on cyanobacteria algal blooms provided by NASA, NOAA, and USGS to monitor changes in the environment, assess economic impacts, and protect human health.

The first step in the five-year project will be creating a reliable, standard method for identifying cyanobacteria blooms in U.S. freshwater lakes and reservoirs using ocean color satellite data. NOAA and NASA have lead the way in using oceanic satellite data for monitoring and forecasting harmful algal blooms and EPA is integrating this data into the decision-making process.

Researchers will also conduct a large-scale investigation of potential causes of harmful algal blooms in U.S. freshwater systems. Blooms in lakes and estuaries result from aquatic plants receiving a combination of excess nutrients, perhaps from river runoff, and other environmental conditions such as temperature and light. Various land uses, such as urbanization or modernized agricultural practices, influence the amount of sediment and nutrients delivered in watersheds, which can influence cyanobacterial growth.

This innovative use of satellite data to monitor and report blooms throughout a region or state will help with management of events and significantly reduce risk to the public. Ultimately, this project will reduce the amount of resources needed to protect human health and the environment.

About the Author: Science writer and student contractor Kacey Fitzpatrick is a frequent contributor to It All Starts with Science.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Visualizing Our Waters

2015 April 7

By Dustin Renwick

“Data mining” conjures images of someone clanking away with a pick-axe at a mountain of 1s and 0s. But the sentiment isn’t far off. Heaps of data are useless without understanding the relevance and context within the larger picture.

Graphic showing swirling water with  words "Visualizing Nutrients" belowNutrient pollution is one the most expensive problems associated with aquatic environments. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water affects human health and the sustainability of ecosystems. Green water means increased risks for harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and other nutrient-related water quality issues.

To help provide a clearer picture of this problem, 29 teams are now developing and testing affordable, real-time technologies for measuring nitrogen and phosphorus in water as part of our Nutrient Sensor Challenge. Yet those sensors will produce more data, ever increasing our need to make the numbers understandable to a larger audience beyond the scientists who study the measurements.

Today, with the U.S. Geological Survey and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit focused on water), EPA launched Visualizing Nutrients. This innovation competition includes $15,000 in cash prizes.

We want talented designers, coders, data scientists, sensor experts, and anyone interested in complex problems to analyze and organize existing nitrogen and phosphorus water pollution data.

The best submissions will transform publicly available, open government data sets into dynamic visual representations that reveal insights, trends, and relationships. First Place will take home $10,000 and a People’s Choice Award will win $5,000.

Visit the competition website to submit a solution. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. on June 8, 2015.

This is one of many efforts by the broader Challenging Nutrients Coalition to bring innovative ideas and solutions to bear on the problem of nutrient pollution. The group consists of federal agencies, universities, and nonprofits.

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works in conjunction with the Innovation Team in EPA’s 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.

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This Week in EPA Science

2015 April 3

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch recap cherry blossoms

I think it’s safe to say that spring has finally sprung! The cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom here in Washington DC and all around the country baseball teams are gearing up for their season’s opener.

But before you head out to enjoy the warmer weather, be sure to check out this week’s Research Recap. Here’s the latest in EPA Science.

  • Which Ounces of Prevention?
    How do we predict which chemicals are toxic – and at which exposure levels? EPA STAR grantee Shane Hutson, an Associate Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt University, teamed up with colleagues to found VPROMPT – Vanderbilt-Pittsburgh Resource for Organotypic Models for Predictive Toxicology.
    Read more about these EPA STAR grantees in the blog Predictive Toxicology Using Organotypic Models
  • Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship Program
    This year marks more than 30 years that EPA has provided support to undergraduate students through the Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship Program. EPA’s Georgette Boddie, the Program Manager for GRO, has worked with hundreds of Fellows to ensure that they have the support they need while in the program.
    Read more about the program in Georgette’s blog Thirty Years of Undergraduate Support.
  • FracFocus Report
    Only a few years ago, very little was known about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Congress asked EPA to embark on a major effort to advance the state-of-the-science to accurately assess and identify those risks.
    Read more about the report in EPA Connect’s blog FracFocus Report: Helping us Paint a Fuller Picture.
  • The Future of Chemical Toxicity Testing
    EPA’s Science to Achieve Results grant program will provide research institutions with up to $6 million each to further develop organotypic culture models —“organ-on-a-chip” microsystems.  The grants support innovative research that will eventually model complex functions of the human system like metabolism, multicellular communication within a tissue or target organ, and how these multiscale systems change over time.
    Read more about this exciting research in the blog Organs-on-a-Chip.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s 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.

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Which Ounces of Prevention? Predictive Toxicology Using Organotypic Models

2015 April 2

By Shane Hutson

VPROMPT team members (left-to-right) Shane Hutson, Dmitry Markov, John Wikswo and Lisa McCawley. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Allwardt.

VPROMPT team members (left-to-right) Shane Hutson, Dmitry Markov, John Wikswo and Lisa McCawley. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Allwardt.

Everyone knows that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” but think about that saying’s application to environmental chemical exposure. There are tens of thousands of chemicals in common use. If we don’t prioritize that list, it quickly adds up to a few tons of prevention.

There is no doubt that prevention is the best medicine when you know exactly what needs to be prevented, but how do we know? How do we predict which chemicals are toxic – and at which exposure levels? Those questions are why I became involved in toxicology research.

For 40+ years, the gold standard for those questions has been expensive, time consuming, animal-based (primarily mice and rats) laboratory exposure studies where results are not clearly predictive of effects in humans. Are we stuck with such studies? A large number of scientists are working to answer that question with “No, we can do better.”

I became involved in this effort during a year at EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology. My interests lie in developmental toxicity – understanding how chemical exposures affect the developing fetus – so I worked with EPA researchers on the Virtual Embryo Project to build computational models of specific developmental events and how they go awry during chemical exposure. When combined with high-throughput screening efforts such as ToxCast, computational models do have some predictive ability. But we still have a lot to learn.

That brings me to my current efforts. I’ve teamed up with a talented group of colleagues at Vanderbilt and the University of Pittsburgh to found VPROMPT – Vanderbilt-Pittsburgh Resource for Organotypic Models for Predictive Toxicology.

The word “models” pops up again here, but these are not computational. VPROMPT is using diverse expertise in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering to grow “models” that are three dimensional assemblies of multiple human cell types in carefully perfused microfluidic chambers. Such models are designed to be “organotypic,” that is, matching the microenvironment that cells experience in a living organ. This will enable our model to more closely mimic human responses to chemical exposure.

Our plans focus on developmental toxicity with models for liver, mammary gland, developing limb, and fetal membrane. The latter is a key model for investigating chemicals’ links to preterm birth.

VPROMPT is just getting started. We have lots to do in terms of engineering, fabricating and validating our models, but we also have high hopes for their predictivity. Will they help us make sure we only need that reasonable ounce of prevention? Stay tuned and let’s see where the science takes us!

About the Author: Shane Hutson is an Associate Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt University and Deputy Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research & Education.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Thirty Years of Undergraduate Support through the Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship Program

2015 April 1

By Georgette Boddie

Photograph of GRO Alumni Gregory Crawford

GRO Alumni Gregory Crawford

When I came to the Environmental Protection Agency some thirty five years ago, I did not know it would include the wonderful opportunity to impact the lives of so many students. As Program Manager for the Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship Program, I have worked with hundreds of Fellows to ensure that they have the support they need while in the program. I began in 1997 when it was called the Minority Academic Institutions Undergraduate Student Fellowships, which targeted underrepresented undergraduate students interested in the environmental sciences. We offered an opportunity for promising undergraduates to pursue these related disciplines as undergraduates with less of a financial burden. Fellows could also participate in a 12-week summer internship at an EPA facility, doing real-world science and engineering.

When I think back to my first group of Fellows (11 students), it is amazing to see that the program has grown to fund up to 40 students per year. And it’s even harder to believe that more than 400 students have been supported through the program.

The most rewarding part is knowing that because of GRO, Fellows were able to gain invaluable experience and find their true calling in the environmental field. Many now work in academia, the federal government, the private sector, non-government organizations and state agencies.

Our GRO Forum shares the stories of our alumni as they continue to protect human health and the environment. There are many that stand out in my mind and a few that have kept in touch with me over the years, keeping me posted about their career journey. Here are just a couple:

  • 1995 Fellow Gregory Crawford is easy to remember because he started before I was managing the program. I first reached out to him requesting information to include in the GRO Forum. He responded almost immediately and we have been in contact ever since!
  • Another that comes to mind is Cynthia Williams, a 2007 Fellow. She has been working toward her doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of California-Davis, with hopes of one day working for EPA. She has also given back to the program on numerous occasions, serving as a peer reviewer evaluating program applicants.

Those are just two examples of many memorable students I’ve been fortunate to get to know, but they all have had impacts on the program.

This year marks more than 30 years that EPA has provided support to undergraduate students through GRO. And with the recent announcement of our 2014 cohort of GRO Fellows, 34 more now have the opportunity to focus on their studies in environmental-related disciplines.

When the time comes for me to retire, I know I’ll be pleased to know that I have made a positive difference in the lives of so many students, and have helped to set their path as future environmental pioneers.

About the Author: Georgette Boddie has worked at EPA for 34 years. During that time she has served in numerous capacities, and in more recent years, as program manager for the GRO Undergraduate Fellowships program. Ms. Boddie has managed hundreds of student fellows throughout her professional career. However she has no doubt touched the lives of thousands.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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FracFocus Report: Helping us Paint a Fuller Picture

2015 March 30

The following is an excerpt of a blog posted on EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

By Tom Burke

Portrait of Tom Burke

Thomas Burke, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development and EPA Science Advisor

Only a few years ago, very little was known about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Congress asked us to embark on a major effort to advance the state-of-the-science to accurately assess and identify those risks. Today, we are releasing a new report to provide a fuller picture of the information available for states, industry, and communities working to safeguard drinking water resources and protect public health.

The Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data from the FracFocus Chemical Registry 1.0. is a peer-reviewed analysis built on more than two years of data provided by organizations that manage FracFocus, the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Operators disclosed information on individual oil and gas production wells hydraulically fractured between January 2011 and February 2013 and agency researchers then compiled a database from more than 39,000 disclosures.

Read the rest of the post. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Organs-on-a-Chip: The Future of Chemical Toxicity Testing

2015 March 25

By Tom Knudsen, Ph.D.

Illustration of a human brain on a computer chipLast week, my colleague Jim Johnson shared a blog post (Exciting Times for Toxicology: Creating New Predictive Models) about EPA’s leadership role to advance chemical toxicity research, including news that the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program will provide research institutions with up to $6 million each to further develop organotypic culture models (OCMs)—“organ-on-a-chip” microsystems.  The grants support innovative research that will eventually model complex functions of the human system like metabolism, multicellular communication within a tissue or target organ, and how these multiscale systems change over time.

Today, I am excited to share the three institutions that will receive EPA support to advance this innovative work. The institutions and their work are highlighted below.

  • University of Wisconsin, Madison – Human Model Analysis of Pathways Center:
    The Center will research innovative cellular modeling methods to develop a broadly applicable set of tools for toxicity screening.  Researchers will develop OCMs for functions within the liver, central nervous system and mammary gland with invasive carcinoma.
  • Vanderbilt University Resource for Organotypic Models for Predictive Toxicology:
    The Center will advance alternative methods of chemical toxicity testing using 3D cultures of tissues to reduce uncertainties regarding specific chemical exposures.  The models will simulate a more accurate response in the liver, mammary gland, limb/joint formation, and placental tissues under different conditions and stressors.
  • University of Washington – Predictive Toxicology Center for Organotypic Cultures and Assessment of AOPs for Engineered Nanomaterials:
    The Center will develop innovative OCMs to evaluate potential toxicity in cells and organs following exposure to metal-based engineered nanomaterials within an adverse outcome pathway (AOP) model.  The research will target airway tissues, kidney, liver, and testis.  Models will also factor in lifestage and genetic background.

We believe that the “organ-on-a-chip” microsystems and models the centers develop will provide vital information to predict toxicity and chemical exposure within the human body and at different lifestages and provide data that further minimizes the lengthy testing involved with animal studies. Organotypic culture models have the potential to improve, evaluate, and extend computational models that are currently under development by our own scientists.

Research data will not only help explain how organs and tissues respond to various chemicals, but these models will ultimately be used to validate other predictive models such as EPA’s virtual embryo models which will advance our understanding of the potential links between chemical exposure and development, disease, or other responses.

For more information on OCM Research and our STAR grants, please see our fact sheet.

About the Author: Tom Knudsen, Ph.D. is a developmental systems biologist at EPA’s Center for Computational Toxicology. His research focuses on predictive models of developmental toxicity—building and testing sophisticated computer models. In addition to his research at EPA, Dr. Knudsen is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Louisville, Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Reproductive Toxicology, and Past-President of the Teratology Society. Read more about him and his work.

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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This Week in EPA Science

2015 March 20

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

Are you watching March Madness this weekend? Tournament halftimes are five minutes longer than regular season breaks – the perfect amount of time to read Research Recap!

Check out the latest in EPA science (after you refill that chip bowl).

  • Exciting Times for Toxicology: Creating New Predictive Models
    During the 2015 Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting and ToxExpo, EPA will host a grantee kickoff event to announce and congratulate the grantees receiving $6 million Science to Achieve Results grants to develop Organotypic Culture Models for Predictive Toxicology Research Centers.
    Read more about these efforts in the blog Exciting Times for Toxicology.
  • Best Paper in Toxicological Sciences Award
    EPA researchers Yong Ho Kim, Christina Powers, and Russell S. Thomas will be honored at the Society of Toxicology’s 54th annual meeting and ToxExpo in San Diego, CA for their work to advance understanding of the effects of chemicals on human and environmental health.
    Read more about the winning authors in the blog EPA Researchers Win Best Toxicological Paper Awards.
  • The Road to “Genius:” It All Started with Science
    Over the past decade, EPA has supported Dr. Tami Bond’s work through several grants issued to the University of Illinois where she has led projects investigating the complex relationship between black carbon and climate change. ​ A few months ago, she was awarded a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship.
    Read more about this EPA STAR Grantee and MacArthur Fellow in the blog The Road to “Genius.

If you have any comments or questions about what I shared or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s 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.

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The Road to “Genius:” It All Started with Science

2015 March 20

By Sherri Hunt

Sherri Hunt and Tami Bond for web (1)

MacArthur Fellow Tami Bond (left) and EPA Scientist Sherri Hunt

When I started at EPA back in 2003, my mentor, Darrell Winner and I, began working with a recently funded grantee of the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, Tami Bond. She was my first insight into the projects EPA typically funds and we were extremely excited to follow her career as she investigated the effects of black carbon. Darrell and I would soon come to know Tami as a visionary and talented researcher that is changing the world with her ground-breaking research.

Over the past decade, EPA has supported Tami’s work through several grants issued to the University of Illinois where she has led projects investigating the complex relationship between black carbon and climate change. ​ A few months ago, she was awarded a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. Also known as “genius grants,” these prestigious awards are given to individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits. Her scientific curiosity and resourcefulness have helped her become a leading name in black carbon research.

When I think back on my past 11 years working with the EPA, Tami stands out in my mind as a great role model for innovative and visionary scientists all over the world. She is a dedicated scientist that isn’t afraid to tackle big problems, yet still brings an attention to detail unlike anything Darrell and I have ever seen.

Tami’s global approach to black carbon research is a prime example of her ability to conduct meticulous research to investigate the world’s global problems.

Black carbon, a particle created through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass directly absorbs sunlight and reduces the reflectivity of snow and ice, accelerating ice and snow melt. It also contributes to the adverse impacts on human health associated with ambient fine particles, including cardiovascular and respiratory effects. Although there is still some uncertainty about black carbon, it is clear the reduction of black carbon emissions will bring both climate and public health benefits.

Early on, Tami had the forethought to look at the detailed analytical problem that exists between the scientific knowledge base surrounding black carbon and taking action on climate change.  Thanks in large part to her work, we now know that black carbon offers a promising mitigation opportunity for addressing some near-term climate effects.

The MacArthur Foundation applauds Tami for her creative “beyond the laboratory” work combining engineering and public policy to provide “the most comprehensive synthesis of the impact of black carbon on climate to date.” Her research indicates that global black carbon emissions contribute to anthropogenic climate change much more than we previously thought.

Although solving this puzzle is a daunting one, I’m confident a dauntless scientist like Tami holds the key to understanding the specific climate impacts of black carbon and helping millions of people breathe cleaner air.

About the Author: Sherri Hunt, Ph.D., is the Assistant Center Director and Matrix Interface for the EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy research program. She enjoys reading, running and connecting scientific experts to develop the next generation of work that will enable more people to breathe cleaner air.

 

Image courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Image courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

EPA STAR Grantee and MacArthur Fellow Tami Bond, Ph.D. recently stopped by EPA’s Headquarters in Washington, DC and answered a few questions for us. 

When did you first know you wanted to be a scientist?

I still don’t know if I want to be a scientist but I know I want to solve problems.

I grew up in Southern California which was very polluted at the time and it never occurred to me that that was weird. That there were days that you just couldn’t play outside and that was just the normal. After I had moved away, I was coming back to visit my parents. In Southern California there is a bowl of mountains and all of the Los Angeles pollution washes up against the mountains where my parents lived. As the plane was diving down into this cauldron of brown soot I just went “I have to do something about this.” That was my ‘a-ha’ moment.

I’m not sure I would consider myself a scientist really. I’m an engineer and I use scientific tools to solve problems.

Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to be an engineer?

I went to college for a year and then I left. I worked in an auto shop and I just wanted to learn a lot about cars because I thought they were cool. The environment in the auto shop was a little bit chauvinistic. So one day, I woke up and I decided I want to go to engineering school and then it just clicked. I figured I’m not going to work on cars – I’m going to design cars.

What do you like most about your research?

The ability to put things together. I enjoy the hard science and the discovery but we are still at a rewarding phase of scientific development. A lot of disciplines haven’t merged and people don’t know how to merge them. The notion that you can solve something using two or three different tools is fun.

What has the EPA STAR program meant to your work?

A lot. There are agencies that fund basic science but EPA is the one that really focuses on the use of basic science to tackle applied problems. And that’s what I’m attracted to — things that make a difference to people. I think I would be really frustrated if EPA or the STAR program didn’t exist.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in a career in science or engineering? 

Learn the basics really well. Don’t worry about if it relates to what you want to do because everything will eventually relate to what you want to do.

What do you think our biggest scientific challenge is in the next 20/50/100 years?

This is probably not what you are expecting to hear but the ability to synthesize all the information that is flowing from the scientific community. We are generating knowledge at an amazing rate. A single person’s brain is not getting any more connections in it and yet the amount of information is growing exponentially. We need the ability to capitalize on the wealth of knowledge that we have already developed.

I can think of societal challenges like climate change or energy consumption that we’re going to have to tackle but I think that the challenge for scientists is in the way we do business so that we are able to tackle these challenges.

If you could have one super power, what would it be?

I would like to be able to become really small so I wouldn’t need to use instruments to look at particles.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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