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Environmental Factor

December 2011

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NIEHS grantee student honored with Wetterhahn Award

By Rebecca Wilson
December 2011

Bill Suk and Monica Ramirez-Andreotta

Bill Suk, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS SRP, congratulates Ramirez-Andreotta at the recent SRP annual meeting. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Rey Au)

Monica Ramirez-Andreotta is the fourteenth recipient of the annual Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award. The award, which recognizes an outstanding graduate or postdoctoral researcher who demonstrates scientific excellence, was presented at the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) annual meeting Oct. 25 in Lexington, Ky. Ramirez-Andreotta is credited for her commitment to engaging residents of the local community in her research and empowering them with her results.

Ramirez-Andreotta is a doctoral student under the guidance of NIEHS grantee Raina Maier, Ph.D., in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona (UA). Upon completion of her master's degree at Columbia University, Ramirez-Andreotta took a position as the Research Translation Coordinator within UA's SRP center. As the coordinator, she was particularly active in building partnerships with U.S. and Mexican government agencies, creating Web-based and other innovative bilingual communication tools, and participating in local community events.

Currently, Ramirez-Andreotta is undertaking several projects, one of which she has named Gardenroots. In this project, she is conducting research to understand how metals are being taken up by vegetables planted in home gardens adjacent to the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund site in Dewey-Humboldt, Ariz. In addition to teaming up with local gardeners to collect samples, she is also conducting a controlled laboratory study evaluating vegetable uptake in a greenhouse setting. The final part of her project aims to develop effective ways of communicating project results to the Dewey-Humboldt community.

As the awardee, Ramirez-Andreotta will receive support to attend a major scientific conference, in addition to travel funds to attend next year's SRP annual meeting where she will present her research.

(Rebecca Wilson is an environmental health information specialist with MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training SRP.)

Remembering Karen Wetterhahn

Karen Wetterhahn, Ph.D., was professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College and an established authority on the effects of heavy metals on biological systems.  As a dedicated teacher and mentor, she played an integral role in the administration of the sciences at Dartmouth and served as the program director of the Dartmouth College Superfund Research Program from 1995 to 1997.

In addition to overseeing the program, she studied the effects of toxic heavy metals on cellular processes. An acknowledged international expert in chromium carcinogenicity, Wetterhahn was a leader in conducting research on how metals initiate cancer and other metal-induced human diseases at the molecular level. She fostered links between biology, chemistry, environmental studies, engineering, and the medical school. "The life sciences are interdisciplinary," Wetterhahn insisted.

Wetterhahn died on June 8, 1997 at age 48, as the result of dimethylmercury poisoning caused by the accidental spill of a few drops of the chemical on her latex glove-covered hand.

As a way of honoring the life and scientific accomplishments of Wetterhahn, the SRP has established an annual award to recognize an outstanding graduate student or postdoctoral researcher who best demonstrates the qualities of scientific excellence exhibited by Wetterhahn.

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