Women’s History Month: Honoring Achievements in Science

By Maggie Sauerhage

Ecologist Rachel Carson helped shape how people see the natural world.

An ecologist who changed how an entire country looks at the natural world. The first woman to win a Nobel prize and the only one to win the prize in two separate fields. A computer scientist whose research helped launch rockets into space. A pioneer who realized the dangers of air pollution during the Industrial Revolution. A champion in protecting endangered species. And the first African-American woman to receive a degree in bacteriology.

Who are they? Rachel Carson. Marie Curie. Annie Easley. Mary Walton. Jane Goodall. Ruth Ella Moore.

These are just a few of many inspiring women who have impacted all of us with their innovations in science, engineering, conservation, medicine, and human health protection. They have inspired generations of scientists, engineers, trailblazers, women, and men to find a place where they can make their own impact, no matter how small, in comparison to these great achievements.

March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.

In honor of women, both past and present, who have changed all of our lives for the better through their work protecting human health and the environment, this month we are profiling EPA women scientists and engineers who are striving to make the planet a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable place to live. They share their research, how they discovered their passion for science or engineering, and give advice for anyone who is interested in pursuing their dreams.

We’ll add more profiles throughout the month, so please check back as the next four weeks roll on and maybe you, too, will find a passion for environmental and human health research!

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is part of the communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Education Outreach: Fun for All!

By Maureen Gwinn, Ph.D., DABT

Since 2007, the Girl Scouts Council Nation’s Capital Chapter has organized a Girl Scout Science Day to give local Girl Scouts an opportunity to learn more about science in a fun and friendly environment. 

I first became involved as a friend of the troop leader in charge of the event.  She and I would work on ideas, adapt experimental protocols and talk our science friends into volunteering at the event. 

EPA's Maureen Gwinn: "I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science."

From the beginning, experiments have been led by Cadette or Senior Girl Scouts with the assistance of volunteers, including troop ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ and area scientists. We have hands-on experiments that address concepts of chemistry, microbiology, genetics, and toxicology.  We have had discussions related to what goes into your personal hygiene products, why DNA is unique to each of us, and how forensic science can help to solve a crime.

The Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts running the experiments at a recent event were the 4th graders who participated five years ago.  It has been a pleasure to see these girls not only learn the scientific concepts well enough to teach them to the new Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts, but to watch them take on more responsibility for the event itself.  Through my involvement in this event, I have been privileged to watch those young, giggly ten-year-old girls turn into responsible young ladies – that still giggle, but do so while teaching or setting up for the next group of girls. 

This event inspired me to volunteer in education outreach at other events, including the Society of Toxicology Annual meeting, EPA’s Earth Day celebrations, and the USA Science & Engineering Festival

Volunteering in education outreach was not something I had considered in the past, but after participating in the Girl Scout Science Day for the past five years, I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science, to ask questions about how things work, and to work together to solve scientific problems. 

The Society of Toxicology Education Committee has ways to help support these types of opportunities, and for K-12 in particular we are putting together a website of ideas, experiments, and how-to’s to get you started in the new year. 

Are you interested in getting involved in education outreach, but don’t know where to start? Or are you already involved and have some tips or favorite resources to share? Please post your questions or suggestions in the comments section below so we can join forces.

The impact these events have on the kids is worth the effort. 

About the Author:  Maureen Gwinn is a biologist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment and works as an Associate National Program Director for Sustainable and Healthy Communities.  She is currently serving in her final year as the K-12 Subcommittee Chair for the Society of Toxicology and is always looking for ideas for scientific outreach.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Sensors and Sensibility

By Vasu Kilaru

Around us every day are technologies that give us access to more information at our fingertips than any generation has ever had.  As an EPA scientist, I’m pretty thrilled about these innovations and what they mean for environmental protection.

One exciting new initiative in that realm here at EPA is called Apps and Sensors for Air Pollution or ASAP. This new aspect of our research came out of the recognition that the advances in sensor technologies are unfolding at the same amazing pace that we all see with new cellphone and smartphone technologies.

Cellphones already have a variety of sensors built in:  light sensors and proximity sensors to manage display brightness, accelerometers used as switches or to characterize motion, GPS to provide mapping and locational services, compass and gyroscope to provide direction and orientation, microphones for audio, and a camera for video/photography.

These capabilities have led to the logical coupling of other sensors, such as for air pollution monitoring or biometric measurements, with smartphones.

Traditionally, air monitoring technologies were costly to setup and maintain, and therefore were put under the purview of governments (federal and state). Now, new miniature sensor technologies are more affordable and have the advantage of being highly portable. These developments in sensor technology present an exciting new frontier where monitoring will be more democratic and available much more widely. Parallel to these developments are sensors that measure physiological conditions such as heart rate or blood oxygen levels.

Pairing environmental sensors with ones that measure biological conditions could herald a new era for both environmental protection as well as healthcare. Future developments in these sensor technologies ultimately have the capacity to help people make better decisions regarding their environment and their own health.

So we are excited to do our part in bringing new technologies to you.  If you’re going to the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend (September 29-30), stop by our EPA booth, we’d love to talk about how DIYers, makers, inventors can help make a greener future.

About the Author: Vasu Kilaru works in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is currently working on the apps and sensors for air pollution initiative (ASAP) helping the Agency develop its strategic role and response to new sensor technology developments.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Field Days: Learning what Air Quality Scientists REALLY Do

By Erika Sasser

EPA scientists demonstrate air pollution research equipment with students.

EPA scientists demonstrate air pollution research equipment.

So we’ve all seen those crazy moon suits that people wear when they’re trying to clean up an oil spill or work on a contaminated waste site, but how many of us have actually gotten to wear one?  Thirty lucky seventh-grade girls from the GEMS (Girls Empowered by Math & Science) program organized by Winston-Salem State University got a chance to do just that at a special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach event on July 19, 2012.

A group of EPA staff (all women, and mostly scientists, except for a few interested hangers-on like me!) manned five different stations to introduce the girls to the world of air pollution measurement fieldwork.  Our hope was to free them from “talking about” science and let them actually get their hands on the instruments and equipment we use to measure the pollution around us.

Each station gave the girls an opportunity to experience a different aspect of “life in the field.”  They were able to pick ideal case-study sites for air pollution measurements, explore a field tool bag, and figure out what size solar panel they would need to run monitoring equipment in the field.  They demonstrated their expertise with a wire stripper to connect wires between a battery and an LED light.  We’re proud to report that all the teams got their bulbs to light up!

Fulfilling the role of “an assistant volunteer with no prerequisites but enthusiasm,” I helped with the air quality monitoring equipment station.  Here we used a fan and a particle generator to simulate air pollution from an event like a forest fire.  The girls had fun changing the anemometer’s wind speed and direction readings by blowing on the sensors, testing the particle counters, and turning on the salt-water particle generator.  Fortunately there was an expert on hand to answer all their questions!

And since the day wouldn’t have been complete without shopping (always popular with teenagers), the field safety station was set up to allow them to try on and “purchase” safety gear for different environments (like respirators and protective suits) within a set budget.  Hopefully they learned a lot about protective field gear, and we got some cute pictures out of the deal!

The girls also went on a building tour of EPA’s award-winning, LEED certified facility.  But according to them, the best part of the day was getting to eat lunch in EPA’s beautiful lakeside café!

About the Author: Erika Sasser is a Senior Policy Advisor in the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.  She works on air quality and climate change issues.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.