A conversation about SARS-CoV-2 with Prof. Krista Wigginton and Prof. Tamar Kohn

A conversation about SARS-CoV-2 with Prof. Krista Wigginton and Prof. Tamar Kohn

Left to Right: Kris McNeill, Krista Wigginton and Tamar Kohn

Kristopher McNeill

Profs. Wigginton and Kohn joined Kris McNeill for a teleconference to discuss SARS-CoV-2. All three are working from home, Wigginton in Palo Alto (on sabbatical at Stanford), Kohn in Bern, and McNeill in Zurich. Prof. Wigginton is an Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan and Prof. Kohn is a Professor of Environmental Engineering at EPFL. Both are experts on the inactivation of viruses. The interview took place on Sunday, April 5, 2020.

Kris: What do we know about this virus and what is the closest analog that we know the most about?

Krista: It’s an enveloped single-stranded RNA virus. Influenza is probably the one we know the most about that is similar. SARS-CoV-1 is, of course, more similar, but it’s hard to work with in the lab. We and others have been doing work with mouse coronavirus, and that’s a close analogue. The human SARS-CoV-1, SARS-CoV-2, and MERS are in the beta-corona virus genus, and mouse coronavirus is also in the beta genus.

Kris: How did you start with working with mouse coronavirus. Were you thinking about getting ahead of the next SARS outbreak or was it motivated more by the lack of data on enveloped viruses.

Krista: A bit of both. When I was writing my CAREER proposal, I was doing some reading about SARS-CoV-1 and MERS was also in the news, and I was trying to figure out if there was a role that environmental engineers could play. And there seemed to be. There was the case of the SARS outbreak in the Amoy Gardens apartment complex in Hong Kong. The general thought in that case was that sewage going through the buildings was mixing with the air system and aerosolized virus from sewage was being transported around the complex. And that’s a bit unusual. These enveloped respiratory viruses, like influenza and RSV, are not usually excreted in feces. You find viral RNA, but not usually infective viruses. So, if that is how SARS-CoV-1 was being transmitted, that is really rare.

Kris: Is there any evidence of this transmission pathway with the new one, SARS-CoV-2?

Krista: There are a lot of reports of people looking for this and failing to find it, including the Nature paper that came out on Thursday (Apr 2). The only one I know that found infective SARS-CoV-2 in feces was a non-peer-reviewed study from the Chinese CDC. It seems it was easier to find evidence for a fecal transmission route for SARS-CoV-1.

Tamar: For SARS-CoV-1, they did find they did find the virus can replicate in intestinal enterocytes. But no one thinks that the gut is the primary infection pathway. These are respiratory viruses.

Kris: What’s your take on why SARS-CoV-2 is worse than SARS-CoV-1.

Tamar: It’s not. In terms of mortality, SARS-CoV-1 is worse.

Krista: And that’s the problem. With the first SARS, you knew when someone was infected. There is no way someone was infected and was just walking around. It was more serious.

Tamar: With SARS-CoV-2 you have mildly symptomatic people in society transmitting the virus. It takes something like a week for the more serious symptoms to appear. During that first week, there seems to be a lot of spreading.

Kris: You are virus scientists in a pandemic. Is your behavior different from the rest of us?

Krista: I’m less worried about fomites than the general public. I’m not worried about getting the virus from cardboard boxes or packages from the grocery store. I have friends who are wiping everything down, but I’m not.

Tamar: I’m not either. If I haven’t ever gotten norovirus from the grocery store, I’m not worried about this one. Norovirus is a hell of a lot tougher and it’s shed in higher numbers.

Krista: Yeah, I’m not very worried about food and surfaces. Maybe some high touch areas are a concern, but not boxes at the store. And, can I say that people are putting a little too much trust in gloves.

Tamar: But gloves do help keep you from touching your face.

Kris: What kind of pandemic would cause you to worry about that route of transmission.

Krista: A gastrointestinal virus, a norovirus pandemic!

Tamar: That would be terrible.

Kris: You both study virus inactivation. How hard would you expect it be to inactivate SARS-CoV-2? Is there anything unusual about it?

Krista: It is a little unusual in that it has a relatively large genome for an RNA virus.

Kris: And larger genomes correspond with faster UV-inactivation. Is that right?

Krista: Yes, that’s right.

Tamar: It’s wimpy. It should be inactivated easily unless it is protected in some way by the matrix it is in, as Krista knows well. She’s been looking at masks.

Kris: Is that right? You are working on masks?

Krista: Yes, Michigan is a hot spot right now and is supposed to peak next week. Like many places, we have a shortage of PPE. Several students in my group are helping the hospital try to figure out how to recycle the N95 masks. We are putting viruses on masks and then testing various ways to inactivate them. I don’t know how translatable these results will be for other places because we are optimizing treatments based on what is available in the hospital in Ann Arbor.

Kris: What viruses are you using?

Krista: The commonly used bacteriophages, MS2 and Phi6, which is the model enveloped virus. We are also using a special influenza that cultures quickly and has a luciferase readout. And we are using a mouse coronavirus, but that is very slow to culture.

Kris: Where is that project now?

Krista: We’ve identified some methods that are effective at inactivating the viruses and at the same time, do not affect the integrity of the masks. The hospital is using our virus inactivation data to decide on how to move forward with a N95 recycling program.

Kris: What about your lab, Tamar?

Tamar: We are doing the same thing that a lot of labs are doing right now, which is looking for the virus in wastewater. Frankly, there’s a lot of talk and not many results yet. Virtual workshops, lots of one-page articles going up, networks and platforms being formed, webinars, you name it. But what we are all shooting for is developing an early warning tool. There’s just not much real data yet. To be honest, even if it works exactly as we hope, it’s not clear that a government would actually use the early warning that we would get from monitoring the wastewater system. We saw very slow responses from governments when faced with thousands of actual sick people. I’m not sure they’ll listen to more abstract results, literally from the sewer. That said, I think having a way to monitor viral load will be helpful in gauging the effectiveness of various mitigation measures. In any case, it will take some time before this tool will be available. Maybe it could help society respond to a second wave, but it won’t be ready to help us with this one.

Kris: Do we monitor for other viruses in wastewater?

Krista: Polio is an example.

Tamar: They monitor for polio in sewage in many countries. I only know of one case where it was successful in finding polio without clinical cases. It was in Israel and it was a Bedouin town where polio was first detected. [Science Translational Medicine 2017, 9, eaaf6786. DOI: 10.1126/scitrnalmed.aaf6786.] So, monitoring sewage can be useful, but what we are seeing now with the current crisis is that just having warning is not enough. You also need the political will to take action when you have warning. I have the feeling that we are overselling what sewage monitoring can do.

Krista: It might be more effective to swab high touch surfaces around town and look for the emergence of virus there. But on the topic of working with sewage to detect viruses, there are new guidelines from the US CDC that require BSL-3 PPE.

Kris: That seems potentially overly strict. Why are they doing that?

Krista: I think people at CDC are worried about the safety of concentrating viruses from wastewater.

Kris: Do they know we already work with it?

Krista: I think they do? But the potential for SARS-CoV-2 viruses to be present has them worried. There’s a lot of evidence that the virus RNA is excreted in feces, but not much evidence that infective viruses are excreted in feces at significant levels.

Kris: You are virus scientists in a pandemic. Is your behavior different from the rest of us?

Krista: I’m less worried about fomites than the general public. I’m not worried about getting the virus from cardboard boxes or packages from the grocery store. I have friends who are wiping everything down, but I’m not.

Tamar: I’m not either. If I haven’t ever gotten norovirus from the grocery store, I’m not worried about this one. Norovirus is a hell of a lot tougher and it’s shed in higher numbers.

Krista: Yeah, I’m not very worried about food and surfaces. Maybe some high touch areas are a concern, but not boxes at the store. And, can I say that people are putting a little too much trust in gloves.

Tamar: But gloves do help keep you from touching your face.

Kris: What kind of pandemic would cause you to worry about that route of transmission.

Krista: A gastrointestinal virus, a norovirus pandemic!

Tamar: That would be terrible.

Kris: You two have been working with viruses for a long time and now suddenly we are all talking about viruses. When this crisis hit, were you thinking ‘finally, it’s my time to shine!’?

Krista: Oh no, I much preferred when the pandemic was a potential future scenario that I could talk about in the first paragraph of my papers or at the start of my talks.

Tamar: Environmental engineers can do a few things that are helpful, but doing science in a pandemic is challenging, because everyone is so rushed that it lowers the quality of the work. But, yes, we can contribute a few things. The mask study that Krista is doing is a good example and translating what we know about aerosol transmission of influenza to SARS-CoV-2 is another. And sewage surveillance is great, though I’m not sure we need quite as many groups working on it as currently are.

Krista: What happens is everyone rushes to the answer the same questions. We saw it with the Ebola outbreak. Everyone focuses in on Ebola and then the crisis passes, and then Ebola research dies off for ten years. And the same thing will happen with SARS. And by chasing research on these very specific viruses, we miss the opportunity to prepare for the next one. If we zoom out a little bit and focus on viruses as a whole in a sustained manner, it would help us for both this one and the next one.

Tamar: Our community is not so cut-throat as some others and that is an opportunity. There is no reason why we need to rush to get a paper out in two weeks. Our community will still welcome the paper if it takes a bit longer to get out. We can slow down a bit and do better science.

Krista: One thing that is nice about what is happening right now is that there is more transparency than usual. Like with the mask work we are involved with, there is a network of universities that is sharing results and protocols, and that is helping to minimize overlap and redundancy.

Kris: Will all of this focused attention on SARS-CoV-2 help us understand influenza transmission better?

Tamar: I think it goes the other way around. The fact that we have had groups working on droplet and aerosol transmission of influenza, which is experimentally difficult to do, means that there was a research base ready when this crisis came. The flu research helps the coronavirus research more than the other way around.

Krista: I agree with that, but coronavirus does bring fresh eyes to virus research, and that will help.

Tamar: Yes, that’s right. And I think there are areas that we have not really delved into yet that this situation has shined light on. For example, there is an interesting question about the interaction between air pollution and susceptibility to this respiratory virus. Environmental engineers are well positioned to study this.

Kris: Thanks for the time, Krista and Tamar. Stay healthy and take care!

 

 

 

 

 

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Emerging Investigator Series: Gregory LeFevre

Greg LeFevre is an assistant professor of environmental engineering and science in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa where he started in 2016. He did his BS at Michigan Tech, MS and PhD at University of Minnesota, and Postdoc at Stanford University all in environmental engineering. The LeFevreLab focuses on elucidating biotransformation products and pathways of emerging organic contaminants with the goal of informing improved design of ‘engineered-natural’ treatment systems for non-point pollutants, like urban stormwater and agricultural drainage, and transform wastes into resources, protecting people and ecosystems. Greg has received multiple sources of recognition for his work, including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the University of Iowa Early Career Scholar of the Year award, the American Chemical Society Editor’s Choice award and ACS Best Paper award, the Royal Society of Chemistry Environmental Sciences ‘Best Paper’ and multiple ‘HOT’ articles, National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering fellow, the AEESP Best Dissertation, amongst others.

Read Gregory LeFevre’s Emerging Investigator Series article “municipal wastewater as a year-round point source of neonicotinoid insecticides that persist in an effluent-dominated stream” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Municipal Wastewater as a Year-Round Point Source of Neonicotinoid Insecticides that Persist in an Effluent-Dominated Stream. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article? 

In some ways, my work has changed greatly through time, and in others it is very consistent. I did my PhD at the University of Minnesota focused on the fate and biotransformation of organic contaminants from stormwater in bioretention cells, and my postdoc was at Stanford focused on emerging contaminants in stormwater as well as plant metabolism of emerging contaminants during water recycling. Since starting at University of Iowa as a faculty member, we’ve been continuing in these areas and are also very interested in the fate and transformation of so-called ‘target-specific’ pesticides like the neonicotinoids. These compounds are so interesting and important because, although the parent compounds are explicitly designed to be less toxic to many non-target organisms, only very slight alterations to the chemical structure can dramatically alter the toxicity, reactivity, and fate of the transformation products.

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

I am really interested in how complex chemical exposure mixtures occur and change in the environment and could lead to unanticipated effects to biota. Complex mixtures are important because of the potential for interactive effects on organisms (e.g., drug-drug interactions); when mixtures change in space and time, so can the risk profile. New collaborative work that we’ve been doing at the field study site featured in this paper has been probing some of the spatiotemporal drivers of complex mixture evolution, as well risk patterns. Mixtures are how chemicals occur in the real environment.

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

I believe that we are standing at the verge of multiple big-data “omics” revolutions, with a huge opportunity to converge high res mass spec with biological applications (transcriptomics, genomics) to link chemical exposures with effects to biota—which is ultimately why we care. This will be critical to being able to evaluate complex chemical mixture effects on organisms, which is very much a grant challenge—and difficult.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

I think that there is always a push-pull struggle between working at the interface between the fundamental but realistic and the more applied but less controlled. Navigating that is always a challenge, and I think that it’s important to be able to—and for journals to value—work across that spectrum. Field studies can be more ‘messy’, but are so important!

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

I usually am at ACS once a year, often at SETAC, AEESP, EmCon, and Gordon Env Sci Water. Of course, during the pandemic, that has been really disrupted.

How do you spend your spare time?

I have two little kids (4 and 2 years old), so not much spare time, but I like to do outdoors activities as much as possible. Fortunately, my girls love fishing (at least when we are catching fish), catching bugs, and exploring in the woods. A new creek is an all-day itinerary.

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

I honestly never really considered doing something that was not “a scientist” at least of some sort. My dad’s influence was really big on me; he was a woodworker by trade and taught me angles, planning, and precession—but his passion (and now retirement occupation) has always been ecological restoration. He took me with him to weekly volunteer workdays since I was four, and all of my jobs, internships, and education have been around the environmental sciences.

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

This might be both the worse and best advice to early career researchers during the pandemic: Make friends before you need them. By that, I mean reach out to folks across your university who might be of potential connection or collaboration before you ask them for something or want them to join on a collaboration or proposal. The first year I was at UIowa, I met with someone new every or every other week, from Public Health to Chemistry to Education to Water Resources, etc. and mostly listened, but also got to share a little of what I do and my interests. Totally pull the ‘new person’ card, people will give you an hour. It totally makes coming back to people later with an idea less awkward, and some have resulted in great collaborations—and it’s much better than people only coming together to rally around a proposal (assuming they even know who you are). Getting to know folks is even more important during COVID, but harder.

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Poster prize winners at EMCON 2021

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Environmental Science journals were delighted to sponsor student poster presentation prizes at EMCON 2021, which took place Online (hosted by the University of Washington) from the 13th – 14th September this year.

Prizes were awarded to the following students, on behalf of Environmental Science: Processes & ImpactsEnvironmental Science: Water Research & TechnologyEnvironmental Science: NanoEnvironmental Science: Atmospheres and Environmental Science: Advances.

Christopher Knutson, University of Iowa
‘Computational approaches for the prediction of environmental transformation products: Chlorination of steroidal enones’

Jonathan Beherens, Duke University
‘Towards a Tiered Approach to Assess Effects of Contaminant Mixtures in Urban Streams’

Mira Chaplin, University of Michigan
‘Towards Predictive Models of Viral Inactivation by Chlorine’

Madhusudan Kamat, Louisiana State University
‘Use of UV LEDs for halogen based advanced oxidation processes for removal of micropollutants from DOM-rich water’

Sasha Gallimore, University at Buffalo
‘Assessing haloacetonitrile formation from model nitrogenous precursors’

Congratulations to Christopher, Jonathan, Mira, Madhusudan & Sasha!

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Emerging Investigator Series: Li Li

Li Li is an Assistant Professor leading the Health & Environment Assessment Team (HEAT) at the University of Nevada, Reno since 2019. He obtained his BSc and PhD degrees from Nankai University in 2012 and Peking University in 2017, respectively, and received postdoctoral training at the University of Toronto Scarborough between 2017 and 2019. His research seeks to understand the accumulation, transport, transformation of synthetic chemicals (e.g., flame retardants, plasticizers, pesticides, and surfactants) and materials (e.g., nanomaterials and microplastics) in a nexus comprising the human socioeconomic system, environment, and food webs, as well as the resulting adverse environmental and health effects. He strives to establish, foster, maintain, and promote a variety of mechanistically sound and computationally effective models, to advance our thinking and understanding of the behavior and processes of synthetic chemicals and materials and meanwhile to inform decision making.

Read Li Li’s Emerging Investigator Series article “the role of chemical properties in human exposure to environmental chemicals” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper reviewing the role of chemical properties in human exposure to environmental chemicals. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I research various chemical substances manufactured and commercialized by humans and but found to be hazardous to humans and other organisms. For the past years, I have been striving to develop a holistic, mechanistic modeling framework to describe the complete continuum from the production of these chemical substances to their occurrence within the human body. This modeling framework integrates various components such as production, environmental releases, environmental concentrations, exposure, and risks. It allows exploring how human exposure to chemical substances responds to industrial and consumption activities, physicochemical properties of chemicals, features of the environment of interest, and human behavior. I first managed to bridge chemical production, environmental releases throughout the lifecycle, and multimedia environmental concentrations through my doctoral work (compiled as a book entitled “Modeling the Fate of Chemicals in Products” published by Springer). This work was then expanded, during my post-doctoral training, to include the exposure of humans and various ecological receptors, leading to the birth of a comprehensive exposure model named “PROduction-To-EXposure (PROTEX)”. During the most recent year, I continued to extend the chain of models to include toxicity and health outcomes to support assessments of health risks and impacts. This ambitious modeling framework now enables scientists, industrial users, and policymakers to predict what would happen to our environment and health if we decide to manufacture a certain amount of a certain chemical substance; it also allows linking the adverse environmental and health impacts at the current moment back to the regrettable decisions decades ago.

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

The interdisciplinarity of my work is the most fascinating. The quantitative characterization of the continuum from chemical production to environmental and health impacts, requires synergistic leveraging of the knowledge and successful experience in environmental chemistry, exposure and health sciences, and industrial ecology. We need systematic understandings of how chemicals move, change, and accumulate in the human socioeconomic system, the physical environment, and the bodies of humans and other organisms. An example is this Emerging Investigators article, which discusses how properties of partitioning, dissociation, reaction, and mass transfer (concepts in environmental chemistry) govern and impact external and internal exposure to various chemical substances (concepts in exposure science). Both environmental chemists and exposure scientists can benefit from reading this paper. I am proud that I am one of the pioneers seeking to fuse these independent research areas and make them interdependent and interconnected.

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

I think the most important question is to understand how human activities (manufacturing and consumption of chemical substances, behaviors related to chemical intake, measures for mitigating health risks or impacts, etc.) and chemical properties (tonnage, partitioning, reaction, dissociation, mass transfer, etc.) interactively determine human exposure to chemicals and associated health outcomes. Especially, we need a better understanding and characterization of how variabilities in these two aspects (e.g., interindividual variabilities in toxicokinetics, behavior, and toxicological susceptibility, as well as inter-chemical variabilities in partition ratios, half-lives, and mass transfer coefficients) shape the varied human exposure and health outcomes.

Such a systematic understanding is of vital importance because we are exposed to a myriad of chemical substances present in the multimedia environment, released from multiple lifecycle sources, through multiple exposure routes – it is close to impossible to investigate every single chemical case by case. And we also need to identify the most vulnerable and susceptible subgroups of people with disproportionate chemical exposure if we want to protect every single person in our community for environmental justice and fairness.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The interdisciplinarity also brings about challenges. There has long been a lack of communication and dialog between scientists from these different disciplines. Knowledge and experience are largely compartmentalized and fragmented. For instance, while environmental releases “remain the least understood part of the research” to environmental chemists, industrial ecologists already have a wide range of well-established, mature methodologies on hand for estimating the lifecycle releases of chemical substances. However, since data of environmental releases are not directly measurable or observable, they cannot be evaluated or validated without being converted to concentrations in environmental compartments, which often plagues industrial ecologists due to the lack of fate and transport modeling techniques in industrial ecology. In addition, a common language or knowledge is also missing in many cases. An example is the biotransformation of chemical substances inside the organism body: while its important role in determining bioaccumulation and human dietary ingestion of chemical substances has been very well recognized and characterized by environmental chemists, as reviewed in this Emerging Investigators article, it has yet to be widely accepted by most exposure scientists and/or toxicologists. Also, terminologies and nomenclatures vary among these different disciplines, which adds difficulties to communication and dialog between these research areas. For example, just ask ourselves: what are we talking about when saying “bioavailability”? When using this word, are we really referring to the same thing as an environmental chemist, a toxicologist, an exposure scientist, or a pharmaceutical scientist does?

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

I usually attend the annual meetings of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in North America and Europe. I am also a frequent attendee of the annual meetings of the International Society of Exposure Science.

How do you spend your spare time?

I spend my spare time with my wife, hanging out, watching films and variety shows, and exploring various food and fun. I am also a nice photographer!

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

I may choose to become a journalist, as I love to investigate the truths beneath the surface and share intriguing stories with others. To me, a scientist is quite similar to a journalist, as they both relay something unknown to the audience through their efforts of exploration.

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

It is important to understand both the big picture of the research area and the detailed, fundamental technical skills (e.g., laboratory, modeling, fieldwork, observational methodologies) required in the research area. Vision is crucial to success, but bringing vision into reality is more important. After all, “talk is cheap, show me the data”.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Rachel O’Brien

Rachel received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in Allen Goldstein’s group and then carried out two postdocs, one at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the other at MIT. She started a faculty position in the Chemistry department at William & Mary in 2017 where she is now entering her fifth year. Her research focuses on complex organic mixtures found in aerosol particles and on indoor and outdoor surfaces. With a team of undergraduates and masters’ students, she probes details on the chemical composition and investigates how the mixtures change as they age under natural conditions. Collaborations are a key component of her research, and she is so happy to have had the opportunity to take part in the HOMEChem field campaign to investigate questions in indoor chemistry.

Read Rachel O’Brien’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Chemical and Physical Properties of Organic Mixtures on Indoor Surfaces During HOMEChem” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent EmergingInvestigator Series paper focuses on Chemical and Physical Properties of Organic Mixtures on Indoor Surfaces During HOMEChem. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article? 

During my PhD, I explored the chemical composition of aerosol particles using soft ionization and ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry. In my first postdoc I worked on imaging individual aerosol particles using microspectroscopic techniques. During my second postdoc, I helped develop a method to atomize very small sample volumes into an Aerosol Mass Spectrometer. This most recent article is built on all these research skill sets. To fully understand the chemical composition and physical properties of complex mixtures like the ones we look at here, you need a range of different techniques. I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to combine my group’s main skill set (chemical analysis) with work from our collaborators to build a full picture of the chemical and physical properties of these indoor films.

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

I’m really excited about the aging work that we are doing for complex organic mixtures from biomass burning, secondary organic aerosol, and indoor surface films. Our ability to track chemical changes over longer periods of time is providing some really interesting data sets.

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

In indoor chemistry I think we really need to understand the chemical mixtures we have both in the surface films, but also in the air. In addition to that, we need to understand the variability that is present since no two houses or workplaces will be the same. With the Pandemic, many of us are spending more time indoors and this begs the questions: what are we breathing and what are we exposed to in these environments? Once we understand all this, we can better design aspects of the built environment, like ventilation and building materials, to improve our health and the quality of our daily life.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The data sets we generate are complicated and can take long periods of time to analyze. As a pre-tenure faculty member, the slower pace for this can be a bit stressful. But the time we spend pays off in the detailed information we can generate.

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

I will be at AAAR this fall, and I’ll be attending AGU remotely.

How do you spend your spare time?

I don’t find that I have a lot of spare time, but what I do have I spend with my husband Jeremy.  I hope to get back into swimming again once things open back up after the Pandemic.

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

If I weren’t a scientist, I would want to run a ranch focusing on beekeeping with lots of fields of different native flowers combined with wine fields.

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

Find good people to work with: people who both encourage you and provide good feedback. Science is a great field to work in when you have a community of fantastic collaborators and mentors to share your journey.

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Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts Collections

Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts (ESPI) is the home for high-impact research in all areas of the environmental chemical sciences, including chemistry of the air, water, soil and sediment. We welcome studies on the environmental fate and effects of anthropogenic and naturally occurring contaminants, both chemical and microbiological, as well as related natural element cycling processes. Here, we’ve brought together our latest Article Collections and Themed Issues to enable you to easily navigate to content most relevant to you. We hope that you enjoy reading the papers in these collections!

Themed issues now open for submissions

Click here to find out more


Click here to find out more

Ongoing themed collections

Themed issues

 

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Themed Issue Open for Submissions: Biogeochemistry of the Trace Elements

Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts seeks your highest impact research for our upcoming Themed Issue dedicated to Biogeochemistry of the Trace Elements

Guest Edited by Elsie Sunderland (Harvard University, USA) and Lenny Winkel (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science & Technology, Switzerland)

This themed issue will showcase advances in research on the biogeochemistry of trace elements, highlighting the wide range of biogeochemical processes and environmental impacts of essential as well as toxic trace elements. Of special interest for the themed issue is research related to interfaces, such as mineral-water and aerosol-gas phase reactions, research linking environmental compartments, such as hydrosphere/ atmosphere interactions and regional/ global trace element cycling, as well as research on coupled biogeochemical cycles, such as coupled trace element cycles or coupled trace element-carbon cycling.

Submissions due: 17th December 2021

Submit your work now: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/em

We welcome urgent Communications, Full papers and Reviews. Upon submission, please add ‘‘Invited for the Biogeochemistry of the Trace Elements themed issue’ in step 4 of the submission process. All manuscripts will undergo initial assessment and peer review as per the usual standards of the journal.

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Themed Issue Open for Submissions: Wildfires – influence on air, soil and water

Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts seeks your highest impact research for our upcoming Themed Issue dedicated to Wildfires – Influence on air, soil and water.

Guest Edited by Alex Chow (Clemson University, USA) and Lu Hu (University of Montana, USA)

Ash and smoke from wildfire and prescribed fires can contaminate soil, air, and water, impacting millions of people worldwide every year. The burn area, frequency, and severity are predicted to continue increasing under a future warmer climate. In addition to the dangers of heat from an active fire, fire smoke emits hundreds if not thousands of air toxins, posing significant threats to public health and wildlife. Ash and fire retardants negatively affect soil and water quality, threatening aquatic biotics, agricultural operation, and municipal water supplies downstream. Long-term changes in vegetation composition and land cover can also alter nutrient cycles, ecosystem function, and even climate.

Despite its significant impacts on the environment, there are still many knowledge gaps on the environmental chemistry of wildfires – from essential and trace elements, heavy metals, nutrients, organic compounds, to pyrogenic and black carbon. Furthermore, studies connecting these chemicals among air, soil, and water are extremely limited. This wildfires-themed issue is to encourage the communication and understanding from atmospheric, soil and water chemistry. Laboratory, field, numerical model, and remote sensing approaches to study the processes and impact of wildfires and prescribed fire on either soil, water, air, climate, or the interfaces among them are welcome.

Submissions due: 31st March 2022

Submit your work now: mc.manuscriptcentral.com/em

Upon submission, please add ‘Invited for the Wildfires themed issue’ in step 4 of the submission process. All manuscripts will undergo initial assessment and peer review as per the usual standards of the journal.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Pieter Bots

 

Pieter Bots received their MSc in environmental geochemistry at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and their PhD in environmental mineralogy from the University of Leeds. After this they moved to the University of Manchester for four years and two postdocs in actinide geochemistry. During this time, they worked on uranium and neptunium geochemistry in geological disposal scenarios. In 2016 Pieter joined the University of Strathclyde (in Glasgow, Scotland), on the Little Forrest Legacy Site (LFLS) immobilization project. On this project they worked on Sr and Cs geochemistry at legacy waste sites and how engineering materials impact on their speciation and mobility. Since November 2019, they are a Research Fellow and Co-I on the EPSRC funded NNUF facility: Plasma Accelerators for Nuclear Applications and Materials Analyses (PANAMA).

Read their Emerging Investigator Series article, ‘Emerging investigator series: a holistic approach to multicomponent EXAFS: Sr and Cs complexation in clayey soils’, here: https://doi.org/10.1039/D1EM00121C

 

 

 

Watch their video abstract below:

  1. Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on EXAFS of Sr and Cs. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

During my PhD my research focussed on the formation of calcium carbonate minerals in marine settings. During this time, I really learned the value of really thinking about the experimental design, but also about the analytical side of research, and that investing time in understanding the basics of the analytical techniques used in my projects has been incredibly valuable. I learned this through having to (re)develop ion chromatography methods for samples with high salinity for my first publication from my PhD. My PhD was also when I was first introduced to synchrotron radiation techniques. During my PhD, I mainly used small angle X-ray scattering techniques to investigate the formation and crystallization of calcium carbonate. Then when I joined the University of Manchester on a project on actinide (uranium and neptunium) geochemistry, I was introduced to contaminant mobility and X-ray absorption spectroscopy techniques. This was also the time that I realised that with XAS techniques, the data analysis is not always very straight forward, and that often you’ll have to think outside of the box in order to get the information you need (which is also true for other techniques, like SAXS and electron microscopy), specifically if the samples are complex and the XAS data represents multiple possible geochemical species. Because of this realisation, I have always tried to use the best, or developing and adjusting existing (data analyses) procedures to get the (geo)chemically most meaningful information. I used all this experience during my postdoc at the University of Strathclyde. For example, my experience in XAS analyses enabled me to get XAS beamtime awarded, at Diamond Light Source, on Sr and Cs geochemistry. Next, to get the most chemically meaningful information out of the XANES and EXAFS spectra I collected during the beamtime, I quickly realised I had to think outside the box again, which led to my publication in the Emerging Investigators series.

 

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

I am very happy that during my career so far I have always such an approach that values the analytical as well as the experimental side of research, including thinking outside of the box. At most places, this has been valued and given me the opportunity to collaborate many academics from different research fields like geoscience, chemistry, physics, environmental and even archaeology. This now means that my research plans are relatively broad; and have a wide range of research ideas in mineralogy and geochemistry which I am developing and writing up as research proposals. Hopefully I will be able to submit soon.

One of these proposals is on the mineralisation of phosphate biominerals through biomimicry and how different mechanisms of mineral formation impact on contaminant (U, Sr, Pb) mobility. At the moment, I am excited about collaboration (as Co-I) with a colleague at the University of Strathclyde; we have two RWM funded PhD students starting soon on the hydrothermal aging of cement, and how (we analyses for) the mineralogical and geochemical changes impact on the microstructural characteristics and the longevity of cement, how such materials will behave in geodisposal settings to keep radioactive wastes safe for generations to come.

 

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

There are two very important questions that I think are very important in my area of research. The first is that we really need to understand the dynamics and reversibility of mineralisation processes and the mobility and geochemistry of contaminants in the environment at a fundamental level in order to develop evidence-based engineering strategies based on mineralisation processes, for example, to deal with contaminated land or for waste water treatment. For example, many bioremediation strategies rely on biomineralisation. Much effort has been made into the microbiology side of biomineralisation, but the mineralisation process itself is still a so-called “black box”, even though the mechanisms of mineral formation impact the stability of the mineral phases, and the mechanisms of contaminant sequestration (including how stable or reversible is the sequestration). In my opinion, understanding such dynamic processes is essential in determining whether such biomineralisation processes can actually be utilised within environmental engineering strategies.

The second is that in most research to date, we tend to only investigate one or possibly two contaminants at the same time. While real wastes, waste water and contaminated environments, will almost never be dominated by a single (type of) contaminant. The behaviour and geochemistry of contaminants in such more complex environments can change drastically due to the presence of other contaminants and this is rarely simply the sum of the behaviour of the contaminants separately, so it is important to try and understand the geochemistry and speciation of such different contaminants and different types of contaminants (e.g. heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, microplastics, nanoparticles), and how their geochemistry and mobility changes in the presence of different contaminants, such as through competition for surface complexation sites, or potential mobilisation of heavy metals by microplastics.

 

  1. What do you find most challenging about your research?

What I find most challenging in research, but also most rewarding, is working with people. It can be frustrating when collaborators, supervisors or students are non-responsive or even dismissive or biased. But when the communication works well (especially after initial struggles), it is incredibly rewarding to see something beautiful come out of it, like a student getting better (or more surprising) results than expected, a research project that is successful, a mentee getting offered a postdoctoral position, or former supervisors or students saying that they can’t wait to collaborate more.

Scientifically, it is trying to make sure that whatever I do has environmental implications. We can never mimic nature in the lab 100% accurately, and there are many different variables in the environment that can impact on the process we’re trying to investigate. So we need to make sure that we design the experiments and analyses in such a way that we will actually investigate and analyse the processes we intend to investigate, that we’re able to understand/determine the variables that impact on these processes, and make sure that all of this is relevant to the processes in the environment or any environmental engineering strategy. Also, there are so many analytical techniques with specific requirement for the samples. For example, with EXAFS, the concentrations of specific elements needed for valuable information are generally at least one order of magnitude higher compared to environmentally relevant concentrations. So, we need to be careful generalising results at such elevated concentrations to draw overarching environmental conclusions (which is why I included experimental results on trace concentrations in my paper in the Emerging Investigator series).

 

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

As a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee of the European Association of Geochemistry, I am heavily involved in this year’s virtual Goldschmidt conference (4-9 July). For Goldschmidt, I am organising an early career workshop on “Hidden Histories – Towards Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Geoscience” and the Diversity and Inclusion session. Outside of all the amazing science and DEI talks/sessions, I’ll be hanging around on Spatial Chat for socialising and networking opportunities, but also to be approachable as member of the DEI committee.

After this, I will present at the virtual XAFS2021 conference (11-13 July). Though, I’m not sure yet how present I can be for any of their social events as the conference will be held in the Eastern Australian time zone.

 

  1. How do you spend your spare time?

When I moved to Glasgow for my job at the University of Strathclyde, I wanted to make sure I met people that had no connection to my work. So I decided to get back into arts, and I joined a life drawing class in Glasgow. Since the pandemic, I have also been drawing outside of class more, for example during walks/hikes. For the rest, I enjoy sewing my own shoulder bags and face masks, and I enjoy playing games, both board games (with friends) and computer games.

 

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

Besides the geo- and chemical sciences, the only thing I’ve always been interested in is the arts, both performing arts and visual arts (drawing/painting). When I was still at college, I was even thinking about going to theatre school, but I opted for earth sciences instead. So, if I were not a scientist, I’d probably be in the arts.

 

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

Advice is almost always given based on the advice givers’ own experiences and how they succeeded (and their impression that because they succeeded in that way, everybody should), this is specifically true for unsolicited advice. In my case, as a genderqueer and gay man, such advice usually involved advice on how I should not be myself / how I should change to “fit in” instead of how I should “shine” or “stand out” as myself. So trying to follow such advice actually was completely counterproductive, and even aggravated mental health issues. The only advice that I have been given and found truly helpful with whatever I was trying to achieve was to “just be myself” or variations of that advice.

So, based purely on my own experiences, my advice would be to not listen to advice that doesn’t make you smile or that doesn’t make you feel you can do it (because you can do it, and you’re perfect the way you are).

Finally, two small observations from having worked at several academic institutes and with many students, postdocs and academics. In research, you hardly ever get the results you want or expect, but you always get the results you deserve. With this I mean that if you pay attention to all the experimental results (specifically the results that make no sense), the input from your supervisors or collaborators, and try to understand what the data you produce actually mean, and then refine the experiments or the analytical approach, you will get a lot more out of the research and are a lot more likely you’ll discover something completely new. The second observation is that, often you can design an experiment or research program in a way that it will appear to prove your hypothesis (even if the hypothesis is wrong), because of this, what I think would be a much more interesting and useful approach is to try and disprove your hypothesis.

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EMCON 2021 – Abstract submissions still open

The RSC’s Environmental Science journals are proud to support the 7th International Conference on Emerging Contaminants – EMCON 2021. The conference will be held virtually on September 13-14th, 2021.

Find out more and register here

Abstract Submissions are currently OPEN and Abstracts are Due June 26th!

EMCON 2021 will cover all aspects of emerging contaminant research while emphasizing research themes on microplastics, biomolecules, roadway runoff, transformation products, ecotoxicology, advanced mass spectrometry and other new analytical techniques, and new emerging contaminants as conference themes.

These topics will be covered over two days of sessions, including scientific talks, posters, lightning talks, and informal meetups, with pre-recorded content allowing both synchronous and asynchronous attendance and interaction.

Email your PDF abstract to emcon2021@uw.edu today

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Announcing new appointments to the ESPI Editorial Board

We are delighted to announce that we have expanded the Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts Editorial Board and are very pleased to introduce the newest members of the team.

These Editorial Board members join the rest of the team adding expertise in topic areas such as environmental health & (eco)toxicology; atmospheric chemistry; environmental organic chemistry; interfacial environmental science and much more.

 

About the new team members

Katye Altieri’s research interests include air pollution in coastal cities, the impact of human activities on surface ocean biogeochemistry, and studying the remote marine atmosphere of the Southern Ocean.

Ludmilla Aristilde’s research group employs a combination of experimental and theoretical approaches to gain insights into the biological and chemical mechanisms that control environmental organic processes, towards predicting natural carbon cycling and innovating engineered carbon recycling.

Amila de Silva’s expertise areas are fate, transport and disposition of organic contaminants in the environment; she uses a combination of field and lab experiments to discern their ecological risk based on persistence, bioaccumulation, toxicity and long range transport potential.

Beate Escher’s research interests focus on mode-of-action based environmental risk assessment, including methods for initial hazard screening and risk assessment of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, disinfection by-products and persistent organic pollutants with an emphasis on mixtures.

Mingliang (Thomas) Fang’s research includes applications of mass spectrometry methods to identify emerging organic contaminants, measure human exposure, and assess potential health effects. Bioassays and omic technologies are also employed for risk assessment and identifying toxicity mechanisms.

Weihua Song’s research interests are in the area of Environmental Chemistry, particularly the occurrence, transformation, and fate of emerging contaminants in aqueous environments.

 

Read their work recently published in ESPI

 

We welcome all these new members to the Editorial team of ESPI. They join the existing team of Kris McNeill, Delphine Farmer, Marianne Glasius, Helen Hsu-Kim, Matt MacLeod, Desiree Plata, Paul Tratnyek and Lenny Winkel, with expertise covering all areas of the journal scope as shown in this illustration. Their breadth of expertise illustrates the breadth of research that we welcome to the journal.

Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts publishes high quality papers in all areas of the environmental chemical sciences, including chemistry of the air, water, soil and sediment. We welcome your future submissions to the journal in any of these topic areas and would be delighted to hear from you if you are interested to submit to us.

We also offer a range of Open Access solutions to comply with your funding requirements and maximise the visibility of your research. More details can be found at rsc.li/oa

CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO THE JOURNAL HOMEPAGE

 

Meet the ESPI team

 

 

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