epa researcher

Scientist at Work: Robert Devlin, Ph.D.

February is American Heart Month! To help spread the word about heart health, EPA scientists and staff will write each week about the Agency’s Green Heart effort to educate the public about of the connection between air pollution and your heart. Be sure to check back each week to learn more, and for tips on what you can can do stay healthy!

Meet EPA Scientist Robert Devlin, Ph.D.

EPA scientist Dr. Robert Devlin’s main research interest is understanding the human health effects of air pollution. His research is used to characterize the effects that inhaled substances, such as air pollutants, have on human pulmonary (related to lungs and breathing) and cardiovascular (heart, lungs, and blood flow) health, and the physiological changes responsible for those effects.

When he retires Dr. Devlin hopes to become a star on the senior PGA golf tour as well as a movie reviewer for Entertainment Weekly.

How does your science matter?

I know my research matters because the results help set standards that protect people from real world exposures to air pollutants. As an example, we did a study Exit EPA Disclaimer a few years ago examining the lowest level of ozone that people could be safely exposed to and still be safe. Being able to conduct a study that ensures that our standards protect the public is important, and it makes you feel like your work means something.

We’re also interested in figuring out what we can tell people so they can protect themselves from air pollutants if they find themselves in a place with higher air pollution levels than EPA believes is safe (Editor’s note: for more information, also see EPA’s Green Heart web page: http://www.epa.gov/greenheart/). We just completed a study Exit EPA Disclaimer, in which we found a positive relationship between taking fish oil tablets and protecting yourself against some of the effects of air pollution on the cardiovascular system.

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in Texas and got my doctorate from the University of Virginia Exit EPA Disclaimer in the area of developmental biology. My graduate research involved looking at genes that control the development of muscles in bird embryos using molecular biology approaches. I was on the faculty for Emory University Exit EPA Disclaimer for several years doing that research right after receiving my doctorate.

Keep reading Dr. Devlin’s interview here.

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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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Scientist at Work: Dermont Bouchard, Ph.D.

EPA Scientist Dermont Bouchard, Ph.D., is working to better understand how tiny nanomaterials might be released into the environment. What he and his research partners are learning helps regulators and other decision-makers lower risks and better protect human health and the environment.

How does your science matter?

My research focuses on the fate of nanomaterials in the environment—tiny materials measured on the “nanoscale” that are about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The field of nanomaterials, which is relatively new, uses the unique properties of nanoscale materials to develop new products and technologies, including many used in our homes.

My colleagues and I are developing techniques to measure and model the fundamental processes that determine where these nanomaterials end up in the environment.

One of our roles as scientists is to supply some of the basic information about nanomaterials: their properties, persistence in the environment, and the state of these materials, so that regulators can make informed decisions to protect human health and the environment. We are working to identify which materials would be most likely to be released into the environment so we can focus on them for additional study.

If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would you choose and what would you like to ask them?

Carel J. van Oss, a Dutch scientist who has made a lot of significant contributions to colloid science Exit EPA Disclaimer. Colloid science is really the foundation for a lot of the nanomaterials work that is done right now.

On top of being such an accomplished scientist, he was also a talented forger. While he was in the Netherlands at the start of WWII, he forged documents that assisted hundred of Jews in escaping Nazi occupation. I would like to ask him how he dealt with the occupation and how he got to where he is today.

Keep reading Dr. Bouchard’s interview here.

Read more Scientist at Work profiles here.

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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Scientist at Work: Mark Strynar, Ph.D.

Dr. Mark Strynar is a Physical Scientist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. His research interests include developing methods to measure and analyze the movement and fate of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and other xenobiotic compounds (chemicals found in organisms that are not normally expected to be present) in biological and environmental media.

When not at work, he enjoys spending time with his family and volunteering at his local church and various community programs. He is also an avid hunter, woodworker and welder who spends countless hours in his workshop creating furniture, contraptions, sawdust, and metal filings.

How does your science matter?

For the past eight years or so, I’ve focused on perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). PFCs are chemical compounds used to make products resistant to stains, water, or heat. Most people would recognize them as the compounds that keep food from sticking to pans or stains from ruining carpet.

Unfortunately, the same properties that make PFCs useful in kitchenware and fabric also make them highly resistant to degradation, which means they stay in our environment for a long time after we are done using them. We have found that PFCs are also widely dispersed in human beings.

My job is trying to figure out the different ways that PFCs get into your body. Each avenue of exposure: water, fish, air, food, house dust, etc., requires a different way (“analytical method”) for us to measure for PFCs and other chemicals of interest.

My research supports human risk assessment studies. It matters because if PFC exposure levels are too high we can help people take action. For example, in Decatur, Alabama, we found that levels of PFCs were too high in water and we were able to put people on alternate sources of drinking water. I can see an immediate impact from the work I’m doing to protect people’s health.

If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would it be and what would you like to ask them about?

I would say Louis Pasteur Exit EPA Disclaimer, who was one of the first to do a lot of microbial work and discover that the root causes of many diseases are biologically based in microrganisms. I would like to ask him what made him begin to suspect that microbes are the root cause of diseases.

To keep reading Mark’s interview, click here.

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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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Scientists at Work: Paul Mayer, Ph.D.

Dr Paul MayerEPA ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. works in EPA’s Groundwater and Ecosystem Restoration division where he studies riparian zones (the area along rivers and streams where the habitats are influenced by both the land and water) and stream restoration. Dr. Mayer has also worked as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

How does your science matter?

My research examines ecosystem restoration projects—looking at how such efforts also restore various kinds of “ecosystem functions,” such as absorbing nutrients and preventing erosion. More specifically, my colleagues and I have been looking at stream restoration in urban and agricultural ecosystems. Stream restoration uses various approaches to reconstruct or redesign streams that have been heavily impacted by urbanization, agricultural practices, or past land use.

With stream restoration, we’re looking at nutrient uptake (2 pp, 276K), especially nitrogen. Excess nitrogen is one of the ecological stressors that EPA is most interested in because it can cause human health and ecological problems. High levels of nitrate nitrogen in drinking water prevent your body from taking in oxygen efficiently. My work is helping us learn how to “supercharge ecosystems” and enhance their ability to process excess nitrogen.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue science?

I knew I wanted to be a scientist when I was five years-old. My earliest memory is standing in the front yard of my house with my mom and being fascinated by all the birds flying around us. I asked her what kind of birds they were. I knew then, even though I didn’t yet know what a scientist was, that I wanted to know more about the world around me.

Keep reading the interview with Dr. Paul Mayer by clicking here.

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

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.