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Environmental Factor, July 2015

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Seven promising Superfund trainees receive K.C. Donnelly award

By Sara Mishamandani

Kate Buckman

“Working with Dr. Nacci at the Narragansett EPA laboratory will allow me to learn new techniques and skills and establish a collaborative research project that takes advantage of the facilities, expertise, and support available within the Atlantic Ecology Division of the EPA,” Buckman said. (Photo courtesy of Kate Buckman)

Carmona De Jesus

“The K.C. Donnelly Externship will enable me to advance my knowledge and develop new skills to advance our understanding of environmental health and engineering issues faced by the people of Puerto Rico, a population with a large burden of health disparities,” said Carmona. (Photo courtesy of Carmona De Jesus)

Lisandra Santiago Delgado

“This externship will provide me with an opportunity to enhance my capabilities as an independent researcher in environmental health sciences. I am excited to work with Dr. Davis, who is an expert in the field of thermal remediation,” Santiago Delgado said. (Photo courtesy of Lisandra Santiago Delgado)

Seven exceptional NIEHS-funded Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainees received a 2015 K.C. Donnelly Externship Award Supplement to enrich their research in environmental health science.

Now in its fifth year, the annual award was established to honor environmental health researcher and longtime SRP grantee Kirby (K.C.) Donnelly, Ph.D., who died in 2009 after a distinguished career with the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Texas A&M University.

Kate Buckman, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research associate at the Dartmouth College Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center under the guidance of Celia Chen, Ph.D. Buckman studies the effects of temperature, salinity, and organic carbon on methylmercury bioaccumulation in estuarine organisms and conducts fieldwork across estuarine and open water systems. During her externship at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lab in Narragansett, Rhode Island, Buckman will evaluate using killifish to link mercury exposure to ecologically relevant outcomes, under the mentorship of Diane Nacci, Ph.D., from the Population Ecology Branch of the EPA’s Atlantic Ecology Division. 

Marvic Carmona De Jesus is a graduate student under the guidance of Ingrid Padilla, Ph.D., at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez, which is part of the Northeastern University SRP Center. He is assessing and quantifying the fate and transport of dense nonaqueous phase liquids in karst groundwater systems. His externship at the Oregon State University (OSU) SRP Center, under the guidance of Kim Anderson, Ph.D., will involve using passive sampling devices to detect, monitor, and quantify contaminants in water. He will apply the skills he learns to the karst region of northern Puerto Rico.

Lisandra Santiago Delgado is a graduate student under the guidance of Staci Simonich, Ph.D., at the OSU SRP Center, where she researches remediation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). For her externship at the EPA Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Laboratory, in Ada, Oklahoma, Delgado will work with EPA hydrologist Eva Davis, Ph.D., on thermally remediating Superfund soils contaminated with PAHs. Techniques include steam injections and quantification of PAHs and toxicity in the soil before and after remediation.  

Erika Fritsch, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California (UC), Davis SRP Center, studies the effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the ryanodine receptor (RyR) in killifish, under the guidance of Isaac Pessah, Ph.D. This receptor is essential to neuron signaling and health and may play a role in the neurotoxic mechanism associated with PCBs. At Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Massachusetts, Fritsch will work with John Stegeman, Ph.D., who is part of the Boston University SRP Center. Fritsch will use the bioinformatics expertise she develops to help to establish fish as models for RyR toxic endpoints.

Zhilin Guo is a graduate student under the mentorship of Mark Brusseau, Ph.D., at the University of Arizona SRP Center. Guo is exploring factors that affect groundwater remediation of hazardous waste sites contaminated with chlorinated solvents. During her externship at the UC Davis SRP Center, under the guidance of Graham Fogg, Ph.D., Guo will work toward solving current research problems related to plume persistence, which has been observed in many field sites. This advancement will enhance site characterization and site management for contaminated sites with large groundwater plumes.

Miao Li, a graduate student at the University of Iowa SRP Center, investigates the mechanism of toxicity of airborne PCBs by the formation of protein adducts, under the mentorship of Gabriele Ludewig, Ph.D. He will expand that research through an externship at the University of California, Berkeley Center with Daniel Nomura, Ph.D. Li will learn methods to identify protein targets for PCB metabolites, to help reveal mechanisms involved in the toxicity of airborne PCBs.

Lauren Redfern, a graduate student in the Duke University SRP Center under the guidance of Claudia Gunsch, Ph.D., focuses on microbial communities and their potential for bioremediation at Superfund sites. She will travel to the University of California, Berkeley SRP Center to evaluate microbial interactions, under the mentorship of Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, Ph.D. During her externship, Redfern will determine what biogeochemical influences enhance gene transfer between bacterial species to result in increased degradation rates. These results will expand our understanding of horizontal gene transfer as a bioremediation technique.

(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)

Miao Li

“The University of California, Berkeley provides an ideal environment for the externship, with cutting edge techniques and state-of-the-art instruments,” said Li. (Photo courtesy of Miao Li)

Erika Fritsch

“The K.C. Donnelly Externship will not only help me foster further collaborative relationships with Dr. Stegeman and other members at WHOI, but it will also provide me with the opportunity to learn and apply cutting-edge techniques in the increasingly important field of bioinformatics,” Fritsch said. (Photo courtesy of Erika Fritsch)

Zhilin Guo

“The supplement provides an opportunity for me to learn an advanced numerical flow and transport program, which will enrich my current research and improve my understanding of how media impacts contaminant transport behavior,” said Guo. (Photo courtesy of Zhilin Guo)

Lauren Redfern

“In addition to completing my project that focuses on gene transfer, I will gain a greater understanding of dechlorinating communities and methods of monitoring intercellular interactions,” said Redfern. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Redfern)

Celebrating a renowned mentor and scholar

Donnelly was a dedicated mentor to his students and postdoctoral researchers, instilling the importance of applying knowledge and findings to improve the health of communities exposed to environmental contaminants. To honor Donnelly, the award supports SRP graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who are pursuing transdisciplinary research and emphasizes the importance of research application and collaboration to promote human health.

The award provides each SRP trainee with up to $10,000 for supplies, travel, housing, and costs for up to three months of research, training, and collaboration at other SRP centers, government laboratories, and state, local, or tribal agencies.

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