Emerging Investigator Series: Vaughn Mangal

Vaughn Mangal is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Vaughn graduated in biochemistry and molecular biology in 2013 from Trent University in Canada where he remained for his PhD in environmental science under the supervision of Drs. Celine Gueguen and Alexandre Poulain. During his PhD, he received an NSERC postgraduate scholarship and the W. Garfield Weston Scholarship for his research on contaminant transport in northern aquatic ecosystems. During his PhD, he also patented 2 technologies that use algae to remediate metals from contaminated water sources. After graduating with his PhD in 2019, Vaughn was an NSERC postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Carl Mitchell at the University of Toronto Scarborough for two years. Vaughn uses his background in biochemistry and environmental science coupled with training in mass spectrometry to study the molecular biogeochemistry of organic matter and its implications for contaminant transport.  Since July 2022, Vaughn has established an active research program with field and lab components, looking at relationships between contaminant transport, human disturbances, and organic matter. At Brock, Vaughn teaches analytical chemistry, environmental chemistry, and quantitative chemical analysis courses.

Read Vaughn’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Impacts of land use on dissolved organic matter quality in agricultural watersheds: a molecular perspective” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your Emerging Investigator Series paper uses ultra high resolution mass spectrometry to study the molecular composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in agricultural watersheds to better understand land use impacts. I see that you also recently published another paper in ESPI on DOM in Canadian boreal forest streams. Thank you for choosing our journal! How did your research evolve from your very first publication to your more recent articles?

During my graduate studies, I had the opportunity to develop my interest in analytical chemistry and explore new strategies for solving environmental questions about organic carbon and contaminants. I published my first first-authored publication during the early years of my PhD in 2015 at Trent University, where I used a combination of fluorescent tagging and field flow fractionation to simultaneously separate, identify, and quantify sulphur species released from algae and sulphur-containing molecules in Canadian sub-arctic watersheds. I continued researching how contaminants are mobilized during the spring thaw of these large watersheds in northern Canada. My experience in biochemistry and molecular biology also allowed for a deeper investigation of how microorganisms like bacteria and algae respond to contaminant exposure and the implications for how microorganisms uptake metals like mercury and cadmium with increasing human disturbances. During my postdoctoral studies at the University of Toronto, I became very interested in the effects of forest harvesting on mercury biogeochemistry in Canadian forests and how industries can help refine their management practices to reduce mercury transport. My recent contributions build on my PhD research by focusing on how environmental factors influence the molecular properties of dissolved organic carbon and the implications of these changes on contaminant transport.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Since starting my research program at Brock University in 2022, I am very excited to help inspire the next generation of environmental chemists. I am also excited to work with collaborators to help refine management strategies to reduce contaminant transport in Lake Erie watersheds. It’s very promising to see a shift across industries towards achieving more sustainable practices informed by environmental research.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

One of the most important research questions is how plastic compounds are changing the natural biogeochemical cycles of carbon in aquatic systems. Not only can microorganisms use decomposed plastics as nutrient sources, but these plastics further complicate the fate and transport of other organic and inorganic contaminants. Developing methods to simultaneously characterize organic carbon and carbon derived from plastic pollution will be key to better understanding these interconnected biogeochemical cycles.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

One of the most challenging questions is how we translate small-scale processes and mechanisms into practical solutions and applications. Designing new analytical workflows and developing new ways to characterize organic carbon and contaminant transport is useful, but relating these mechanisms to complex ecosystems where not all variables can often be controlled is challenging.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I will be attending the International Conference for Analytical Sciences and Spectroscopy this year, and plan on attending conferences like the Canadian Geophysical Union (CGU), Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (CCCE), and Metabolomics 2025.

How do you spend your spare time?

I like spending time with my kids, running, and going for hikes in my spare time. I also enjoy gardening and playing soccer.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

If I weren’t a scientist, I would have pursued a career in paramedics or physical therapy.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

My advice would be that it’s never too soon to establish your own independent network of collaborators or colleagues. Work on building and maintaining relationships with other academics at conferences or with other labs, as communicating and collaborating with other scientists leads to new ideas. I’d also recommend working on scientific communication skills as effectively communicating your research to non-specialists is extremely important.

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