Emerging Investigator Series: Amanda Hohner

Dr. Amanda Hohner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Montana State University. Her research focuses on the characterization of source water quality and drinking water treatment processes. Within this area, she evaluates the effects of climatic disturbances and extreme events on watersheds and drinking water system resiliency. Prior to joining MSU she was an Assistant Professor at Washington State University. She completed her PhD and MS in Environmental Engineering at the University of Colorado-Boulder and her BS in Civil Engineering at Washington State University. In addition to research and teaching, she is actively involved in mentoring women and first-generation college students in engineering.

Read Amanda’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: “physicochemical properties of wildfire ash and implications for particle stability in surface waters” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Physicochemical Properties of Wildfire Ash and Implications for Particle Stability in Surface Waters. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My PhD work and first paper primarily focused on wildfire effects on dissolved organic matter and disinfection byproduct formation during water treatment. My research has expanded to investigate post-fire water quality more broadly and in the context of wildfire effects on aquatic systems and environmental processes. The focus of this article is on the characterization of solid wildfire-ash particle characterization and properties that influence stability and mobilization in watersheds. It pushed me to incorporate new tools and analytical techniques from soil science and particle chemistry and look through the lens of ecosystems impacts rather than water treatment.

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

Wildfire and water quality research has gained a lot of momentum the last few years and it really requires interdisciplinary teams to integrate an understanding of the complex interactions involved. I’m excited about working with and learning from collaborators in forestry, hydrology, ecology, and environmental economics on addressing important and challenging research questions. It’s fun to step outside of our specific disciplines and continue learning.

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

Unfortunately, in many regions wildfires are now high severity and catastrophic to communities and ecosystems. At the same time we need some level of fire on the landscape to maintain healthy forests and watersheds. Research and society need to understand what this balance looks like from a land and water management perspective and how we can move towards a more natural, healthy fire regime in the face of climate change.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Observational and field-based studies include very complex environmental interactions that are out of our control such as wildfire behavior and weather. As scientists and engineers we like to have controlled experiments with clear explanations, but that is not the nature of post-fire environmental studies. It can be very challenging when we collect ash or water samples from a burned landscape to be able to form scientific conclusions, but at the same time it makes for exciting research with many unanswered questions to explore.

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

My favorite conferences to attend are the AWWA Water Quality & Technology Conference and Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) Conference.

How do you spend your spare time?

We have a three month old son, so I spend most of my spare time with him cuddling and playing, and on all of the other parenting adventures. We also like to get outdoors and take our pup hiking or running. In the winter we cross-country ski and in the summer we like to stand-up paddle board. We just recently moved to Bozeman, Montana and look forward to taking our son on outdoor adventures soon!

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

I like to argue, so maybe I would have been an environmental lawyer. If not that, then a K-12 teacher because I really enjoy teaching and mentoring students.

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

There are definitely ups and downs with research and academia and it is important to persevere and stay confident in yourself and your abilities. I find I rely on my mentors and close peers to keep me motivated and help me through challenges.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Sarah Styler

Sarah Styler obtained her BSc, MSc, and PhD from the University of Toronto and conducted postdoctoral research at the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research in Leipzig, Germany. She began her independent career at the University of Alberta in 2015; in 2019, she was named a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry. In Summer 2020, she moved to McMaster University, where she is Assistant Professor of Environmental Chemistry and again a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry. She leads the P.A.R.T.I.C.L.E.S. (pesticides, art, road dust, traffic, interdisciplinary, combustion, light, equity, surfaces) research group, which currently consists of eight excellent graduate students and two stellar undergraduate trainees.

Read Sarah’s Emerging Investigator Series article “ozone uptake by urban road dust and first evidence for chlorine activation during ozone uptake by agro-based anti-icer: implications for wintertime air quality in high-latitude urban environments” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on ozone uptake by urban road dust. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?”

When I began my independent career in 2015, my plan was to focus on desert dust chemistry (e.g., dust–pollutant gas interactions, oxidant production by illuminated dusts). As it turns out, Edmonton is very dusty, largely as a result of resuspension of winter traction materials, so early in my career I began to focus on road dust rather than desert dust.  In my group’s first article, we showed that road dust is a source of singlet oxygen, an important environmental oxidant, and thus has the potential to mediate the lifetime and fate of road dust-associated pollutants that react by singlet oxygen-mediated pathways.  Motivated by these results, Maya and I decided to focus on the potential impacts of road dust chemistry on the composition of the urban troposphere. We spent much time scooping road dust from Edmonton city streets for this project, usually at weird times (to minimize traffic). Standing on a major street wearing nitrile gloves and carrying a dustpan and glass jars is a sure way to attract attention, it turns out.

During my interview for my position at the University of Alberta, I recall being asked, pointedly: what happens after dust?  In other words, could I sustain a career focused on dust alone?  I think that I could, but at the same time I’ve expanded my group’s research scope quite a bit over the past few years to include topics ranging from light absorption by boreal wildfire smoke to gas-phase emissions from degrading cultural heritage objects. Currently, we refer to ourselves as the P.A.R.T.I.C.L.E.S. (pesticides, art, road dust, traffic, interdisciplinary, combustion, light, equity, surfaces) group, but I anticipate this acronym will shift and change over my career!

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

It’s difficult to choose, since each student in my group is working on such different topics (and I am enthusiastic about all of them!), but at the moment, I am most excited about work that PhD student Iris Chan is doing to quantify soiling of urban surfaces resulting from wildfire smoke incursions.  This summer, we have urban surface film samplers placed in a variety of cities across Canada and the US, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of the compositional analysis of these samples Iris will perform this autumn.  Of course, if you asked me on a different day, I would probably give a different answer—I maintain what sometimes seems like an inexhaustible reservoir of enthusiasm for all of the projects my group is working on.

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

This is a difficult question! In my various biographies for conferences and websites, I usually say that my group is interested in studying the air quality, climate, and health impacts of chemical reactions at atmospheric interfaces. Impacts for whom, though?  These days, I am most interested in work that aims to clearly identify and engage with the populations that experience the impacts that my research field aims to quantify. Many researchers in my field are doing really excellent work in this area—Dr. Sally Pusede (University of Virginia) comes to mind, for example. In short, I think that the most important questions are also the questions that require substantive engagement with researchers in other fields who have complementary expertise, and with community groups and organizations whose local knowledge and lived experience can ensure that we as researchers are asking the right questions and producing answers that have real value for real communities.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Although I wouldn’t have expected this as a graduate student, the easiest part of my research is coming up with ideas.  It’s the rest that causes me trouble—administration, purchasing, wrapping up the loose ends of projects.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that I have ADHD, which I was diagnosed with during the first year of the pandemic.  As I wrote on Twitter (@sarahannestyler) recently, I’m a poster person, not a manuscript person; I’m a relay starter, not an anchor.  Working to reevaluate my strengths and my weaknesses in the context of this diagnosis has been the grand theme of my pandemic experience.  I’m happy to report that my institution, colleagues, and research group have all been very supportive of these developments.

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

I will be attending the American Association for Aerosol Research (AAAR) meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina this October.  More importantly, though, all eight of my graduate students and I will be attending the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in Chicago, Illinois this December.  My team is really fantastic, and I encourage readers to meet them!

How do you spend your spare time?

One of the neat things about my ADHD diagnosis is that it’s clarified why I’ve always felt like I am working constantly yet never catching up, and in a way has given me permission to take time off.  Over the past year or so, I’ve been getting really interested in weaving—this past summer, I attended a two-week floor loom workshop at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in coastal Maine.  I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my family, which feels like a true luxury after five years halfway across the country and a year in Germany as a postdoc.

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

I would love to be an academic in an art history department, as I’ve always been interested in minimalist art (I made a pilgrimage of sort to the Chinati Foundation in West Texas during my MSc) and an array of other art-related topics (medieval architecture, northern European still lifes).  Alternatively, I’d like to return to my undergraduate roots and work in a cafe, making three omelets at a time and baking empanadas.  Or, maybe I could be a full-time weaver (assuming my skills continue to improve?!), as I like weaving’s similarity to programming and the fact that it is very, very tactile—a real counterpoint to my current working life.  I am forever coming up with new ideas.

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

I can think of many pieces of advice (not sure about the wisdom part), but the one that comes to mind right away is the importance of community.  The friends that I made in graduate school are the colleagues I see at conferences and talk to on the phone, the friends I talk to about successes and failures, and the friends from whom I learn on an ongoing basis.  Having a network of people with similar values and ethics continues to help me to broaden my view of the possibilities and promise of academia, especially during challenging periods.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Amanda Giang

Amanda Giang is an Assistant Professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of British Columbia Vancouver campus, on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam People. Her research group addresses environmental policy analysis challenges through an interdisciplinary lens, with a focus on pollution, climate, and energy. Key topics of current interest include developing better tools and methods for assessing and addressing air pollution and environmental injustice in Canada, understanding the links between air quality and decarbonization to inform policy and planning decisions, and understanding the combined impacts of global change drivers on contaminant cycling and exposure. She currently serves on the Early Career Editorial Advisory Board for Environmental Science & Technology, and the Editorial Board of Environmental Research Communications. She received a PhD and MS in Engineering Systems and Technology Policy at MIT, and a BASc in Engineering Science from the University of Toronto.

Read Amanda’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Investigating the dynamics of methylmercury bioaccumulation in the Beaufort Sea Shelf food web: a modeling perspective” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Investigating the dynamics of methylmercury bioaccumulation in the Beaufort Sea Shelf food web: a modeling perspective. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My first experience in research as an undergraduate student was related to characterizing chemical contaminants in the urban environment. That experience really piqued my interest in environmental determinants of human health and well-being, as well as the role of technology and infrastructure. This motivated me to do my graduate studies at the intersection of engineering, public policy, and the environment. My first lead-authored paper was about tracing through what new global mercury policy might mean for changes in technology and emissions, and therefore changes in environmental fluxes and concentrations of mercury. Since then, my research has continued to focus on this idea of trying to link sources of contaminants to their impacts, to inform the design of interventions—whether that’s in the form of changes to technology, policy, or behaviour. What has grown over time is the range of pollutants and impacts I explore, including air and climate pollutants, and impacts to ecosystems, human health and well-being, equity and justice. This most recent article is definitely an example of that evolution: with Dr. Mi-Ling Li and collaborators, we develop an ecosystem-based mercury bioaccumulation model, that we hope can be used to investigate the impacts of human activity and global environmental change on Arctic ecosystems and communities.

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

At the moment, what energizes me the most are opportunities to collaborate across disciplines and with partners in government, civil society, and communities. Working in teams on problem-focused inquiry that supports environmental policy, planning, and stewardship decisions is what motivates to do research. And, on a personal level, it’s also just a lot of fun—through these collaborations, I’m constantly learning and being introduced to different ways of thinking and understanding the world. Often these connections are made through students and post-docs who come from different training backgrounds from my own. This article is a great example of the kind of collaborative work that’s really exciting me right now!

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

I think key areas for more research are cumulative exposures to, and cumulative impacts of, multiple chemical and non-chemical stressors on human health and well-being. Not only are people exposed to multiple chemicals at the same time, in complex mixtures, but they often simultaneously experience other environmental (say during a climate disaster) and social stressors (such as poverty and other systemic inequities). Cumulative impacts have been identified as an important area for further research for some time now, in particular by communities experiencing heavy cumulative burdens, but I think there has not been as much progress as there needs to be in our communities of research and practice, to increase our understanding of these complex challenges and incorporate that understanding into policy changes.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

As an early career faculty member, I have to admit that one of the things that I have found a bit challenging is learning to manage larger, complex, research projects with many trainees, collaborators and partners. Collaborative, interdisciplinary research is one of the aspects of my research that I find most exciting, but which also requires learning some new skills! This includes creating space for discussing different goals, priorities, approaches, timelines and constraints, and also just the logistical aspects of coordination! Ultimately though, this complexity and diversity is also what makes the research so enriching and meaningful.

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

I plan on attending the American Geophysical Union Fall Conference in-person this year! Other conferences I try to go to include the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and International Society for Exposure Science, and American Chemical Society.

How do you spend your spare time?

I am a bit of a pop culture nerd, so I spend much of my spare time watching, listening, reading any and everything. I am also newly interested in birding!

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

Related to the above, my non-scientist dream job might be TV critic? I also have several academia-related pitches for series, on the very remote chance that someone from a streaming service is reading this.

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

When I think of what sustains me in this career, it’s really relationships. I’m learning that taking the time to care for and nurture these relationships—with peers, with mentors, with trainees, with research partners and collaborators—is so important not only for my research and professional growth, but for my happiness.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Chiara Giorio

Chiara Giorio is Assistant Professor in Atmospheric Chemistry at the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry of the University of Cambridge. Chiara graduated in Chemistry in 2008 from the University of Padua (Italy), where she remained for her PhD in Molecular Sciences (awarded in 2012). She was a postdoc at the University of Cambridge in the group of Professor Markus Kalberer until 2016, a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in 2017, and tenure-track Assistant Professor at the University of Padua until the beginning of 2020, when she returned to Cambridge. She is now leading a multidisciplinary research group working on air quality and climate science. She is the recipient of the 2021 RSC Environment, Sustainability & Energy Division Early Career Award and a Fellow of the Community for Analytical Measurement Science (CAMS).

Read Chiara’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Aqueous-phase processing of atmospheric aerosol influences dissolution kinetics of metal ions in an urban background site in the Po Valley” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Aqueous-phase processing of atmospheric aerosol influences dissolution kinetics of metal ions in an urban background site in the Po Valley. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I had the fortune to touch many different aspects of environmental science research during my career so far. My first paper concerned the environmental fate of systemic pesticides and exposure routes of honeybees. Back then I was already working on air pollution too. These two, apparently very distinct, research lines had something in common. One of the exposure routes for honeybees was through dust (containing pesticides) emitted in the atmosphere during sowing of corn fields. Now my work is mainly focused on air pollution, trying to understand the mechanisms of toxicity but also monitoring people exposure to air pollution.

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

I am part of collaborative research projects aiming at monitoring air quality in people’s homes and testing strategies to improve the quality of the air they breathe through available technologies but also behavioural change. I am really excited about this because I feel I can make a positive impact on people’s lives.

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

We are on the verge of a climate catastrophe and current research is focusing on mitigation strategies. However, we don’t know how air pollution, currently killing more than 7 million people per year worldwide, is going to be affected by climate change. How can we  improve air quality as well as mitigating climate change?

What do you find most challenging about your research?

My research is interdisciplinary and requires a wide range of expertises. It can be very challenging to put together the right team and promote a good communication between people with different backgrounds but at the same time it can be very exciting and rewarding.

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

I will be at the RSC “Analytical Research Forum 2022” in London in June and at the RSC “#EnvChem2022: Chemistry of the Whole Environment Research” in York in July.

How do you spend your spare time?

I love cooking, sports, and tv series but, right now, in my spare time I am mostly a mum of a lovely little boy.

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

I am very happy to be a scientist, but if I had to choose another job I would probably be a chef in a small restaurant. I love cooking and I like small characteristic restaurants that base their menu on local products. They always have a unique flavour and unique atmosphere.

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

My advice is to believe in yourself, in your ability to reach your objectives and to not get discouraged by people and events.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Rachel C. Scholes

Rachel Scholes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of British Columbia, where she leads a research group in environmental engineering. Her research focuses on trace organic contaminants and their fate in treatment systems for water and wastewater. Currently, her group is investigating photochemical transformations of emerging contaminants and the formation of oxidized and nitrogenous byproducts, as well as the fate of trace organic contaminants in nature-based treatment systems. Her research aims to address the implications of trace contaminants for human health, ecotoxicity, and the development of safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals. Prior to joining UBC, she completed a postdoctoral appointment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bioproducts Research Unit, where she conducted hazard analyses of emerging contaminants and evaluated safer alternatives to chemical antimicrobials. She earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University, and she completed a Fulbright Graduate Student Fellowship in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Otago.

Read Rachel’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Contributions of Reactive Nitrogen Species to Transformations of Organic Compounds in Water: A Critical Review” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Contributions of Reactive Nitrogen Species to Transformations of Organic Compounds in Water: A Critical Review. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I was very fortunate to have opportunities to explore research as an undergraduate student, and I discovered a deep interest in environmental chemistry, particularly the fate of trace organic contaminants. Since then, I have approached trace contaminants from multiple perspectives. My first, first-author paper is from my Fulbright research in an environmental chemistry laboratory, which focused on the bioaccumulation of halogenated pesticides in trout from a large river system on New Zealand’s South Island. My studies in New Zealand allowed me to develop strong analytical chemistry skills and an understanding of contaminant fate and transport. I brought that background in environmental chemistry to my PhD research in environmental engineering. In my subsequent research, I queried the fate of pharmaceuticals and urban-use pesticides in engineered wetlands, and worked with green chemistry experts to assess lower-hazard alternatives to harmful chemicals. Each of these experiences has allowed me to refine my approach to addressing trace contaminants and their impacts. When I was studying open-water wetlands during my PhD, I became very interested in photochemical transformations, and reactive nitrogen species in particular. This most recent article builds on my PhD research by focusing on reactive nitrogen species and the resulting formation of toxic byproducts in water treatment processes.

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

I recently started my position as a faculty member at UBC and am very excited to develop my own research group. I really enjoy sharing the excitement of doing research with my students. I am most looking forward to working with them to further advance our understanding of trace contaminant transformations and mitigate the risks posed by toxic chemicals.

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

Transformation products are increasingly being considered in environmental engineering research, especially as high-resolution mass spectrometry becomes more widely available in research laboratories. With hundreds of thousands of parent compounds, it is unrealistic to experimentally assess all of the possible transformation products. Even if we know which products will form, we often do not have sufficient information about their toxicity and fate. As advanced analytical tools enable us to better detect the plethora of chemicals present in the environment, we need methods to prioritize which ones are of highest concern. This is one reason why I am interested in reactive nitrogen species – because they result in the formation of nitrated and nitrosated byproducts, which are often more toxic and less easily degraded than the parent compounds.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Being somewhere between an environmental chemist and engineer presents the challenge that my research often spans a wide range from fundamental to applied. My research requires that we expand our mechanistic understanding of contaminant transformations while studying realistically complex environmental systems. For example, when we look at constructed wetlands, we have multiple processes directly affecting contaminant transformation (e.g., sorption, biotransformation, photolysis) as well as design parameters that influence these processes indirectly, such as hydraulic retention time, flow paths, and redox conditions. As someone who loves to understand the underlying principles of a system and the practical implications, I am constantly trying to bridge the gap between fundamentals and applications.

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

I will be at the American Chemical Society meeting this August in Chicago, and I hope to be attending more in-person conferences soon.

How do you spend your spare time?

I spend as much of it outdoors as possible. I love trail running, backpacking, and exploring the Pacific Northwest. I am also a musician. On stormy days you’ll likely find me playing my French horn or reading a novel.

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

When choosing an undergraduate major, I pretty seriously considered becoming a music teacher. In fact, I started out in a dual degree program majoring in music education and chemical engineering. If I was not a scientist, I would probably be directing music groups and teaching kids to play musical instruments.

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

Spend the time to forge strong relationships and learn from your peers. Learning about research directions adjacent to your own can spur new ideas and building strong relationships with other students and postdocs can help you create a network of support in your future career. I keep in touch with friends from graduate school both inside and out of academia. Being in touch with other new faculty members has provided me with an incredibly helpful support system.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Mohamed Ateia Ibrahim

Dr. Mohamed (Moha) Ateia Ibrahim is a Group Leader and Environmental Engineer at the US EPA. Moha is an expert in the areas of emerging contaminants and the assessment of various separation and destruction technologies from lab-scale to Superfund sites. Inspired by the realization that conventional water treatment techniques will not be able to treat these problems, Moha have devoted himself to developing practical remediation solutions that draw on his expertise in engineering and chemistry. He focused on the assessment of conventional methods, the development of new materials and/or composites to adsorb/degrade micropollutants, and the mobility of new classes of contaminants in the environment (e.g., microplastics). He has initiated and led over a dozen of research collaborations with researchers across the world to target micropollutants in a practical way.

Read Mohamed’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Microplastics Sources, Fate, Toxicity, Detection, and Interactions with Micropollutants in Aquatic Ecosystems – A Review of Reviews” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Microplastics Sources, Fate, Toxicity, Detection, and Interactions with Micropollutants in Aquatic Ecosystems – A Review of Reviews. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Recent progress in analytical chemistry has made it possible to detect a growing number of emerging contaminants (ECs) in natural and engineered water environments. Inspired by the realization that conventional water treatment techniques will not be able to treat these problems, I have devoted myself to developing practical remediation solutions that draw on my expertise in  engineering and chemistry. Specifically, I have focused on the assessment of conventional methods (e.g., GAC, IX resins), the development of new materials and/or composites to adsorb/degrade ECs (e.g., PFAS, DBPs, PPCPs, illicit drugs), and the mobility of new classes of contaminants in the environment (e.g., microplastics). I have a multidisciplinary research background with hands-on experience in environmental engineering, materials chemistry, and agricultural engineering. I believe that solving global environmental challenges will require diverse expertise. Towards this end, I have initiated and led over a dozen research collaborations with researchers across the world to target ECs in a practical way.

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

The most exciting and motivating aspect about my work is the positive impact on human health by contributing in protecting and treating water sources.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research? & 4. What do you find most challenging about your research?

The field of “emerging” contaminants is always challenged by the lack of information about detection methods and their sensitivities as well as comprehensive toxicological assessments. Once we can detect a contaminant and verify its toxicity, then we need to find its fate in a water/wastewater treatment plant and find novel solutions for the persistent contaminants. However, the magnitude of the problem is huge because the estimated number of chemicals and chemical mixtures is more than 350,000. Therefore, in addition to the experimental challenges/questions above, modeling efforts are needed more than ever before to deal with such large and branched problems.

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

I will be attending multiple meetings in March including ACS Spring Meeting and Water Environment Federation Summit.

How do you spend your spare time?

Before the pandemic, I used to travel a lot. Now, I like cooking and watching movies and documentaries.

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

I would work for an NGO.

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

Establishing a strong network of connections is a key factor for success and it should start at the stage of graduate school. This network should include mentors and collaborators who give guidance and support. In addition, the network of early career scientists has a bridge with junior students and researchers as a way of training and knowledge transfer.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Jennifer Apell

Jennifer Apell is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering in the Department of Civil and Urban Engineering at NYU. She earned her PhD in Environmental Chemistry from MIT in 2017 and completed her postdoctoral research at ETH Zurich in the Department of Environmental Systems Science. Her research focuses on the environmental fate of manmade organic pollutants, specifically characterizing the mechanisms that control the equilibrium and kinetics of partitioning between environmental media and on light-driven degradation pathways.

Read Jennifer Apell’s Emerging Investigator Series article “quantifying the impact of cloud cover on solar irradiance and environmental photodegradation” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Quantifying the Impact of Cloud Cover on Solar Irradiance and Environmental Photodegradation. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

If you put this article next to the very first one I published during my master’s degree, you would probably be surprised they were from the same person. My first research was in water treatment engineering and focused on bench-scale testing of an ion exchange treatment processes for a small utility in Florida. This article uses machine learning models and publicly available data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Make no mistake, I am still an experimentalist, but the COVID-19 pandemic required a lot of adaptation from early career faculty. There was some precedent for this work as it builds off some of my postdoctoral research on modeling clear sky irradiance spectra to quantify “best-case scenario” photodegradation rates. This new research tries to make those values more realistic by considering the effects of clouds. With the messiness of real world data, machine learning models proved to be a powerful tool to find overall trends hidden within tens of thousands of data points.

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


Learning some data science approaches during the lockdown was fun. However, many of these approaches are most useful for large datasets, which are pretty rare for the research I normally work on. I’m now looking forward to learning how advances in data science can be applied to analyze the sparse data sets that are typical when investigating the environmental fate of manmade chemicals.

I have also been focusing on having environmental justice concerns and community engagement guide and inform the research questions I address. New York City might be one of the best places for this. It is a new area for me, and the interest and engagement from the community that I have experienced so far is truly inspiring.

 

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


That is a difficult question; there are so many questions that still need to be answered about pressing environmental concerns. Instead I would suggest that in our attempts to answer these questions, we give extra consideration to understanding the mechanisms—the ‘why?’—of the process. There are just too many chemicals and too many human-impacted environments for us to be investigating them on a case-by-case basis. Although our research may be focusing on a single pollutant or a single location, we should always try to put our results in a broader context so that the insights gained from our efforts can be translated to other situations.

 

What do you find most challenging about your research?


There are still so many things we don’t know about environmental processes and the impact that humans have on different environments. I’ve struggled with focusing on just a few research questions now that I have the freedom of a principal investigator. I find so much of the research in the field to be very exciting and important. I have a sign in my office that reminds me to stay focused on my currently chosen research questions.

 

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


I am co-organizing the Aquatic Photochemistry session at ACS this spring in San Diego. It looks like it is going to be amazing – so many good talks! I will unfortunately have to attend virtually. I’m also hoping to make it to AEESP and the Gordon Research Conference on Environmental Sciences: Water during the summer.


How do you spend your spare time?


My dog, Lumen, and I spend some time in the dog park, and I try to keep plants alive with varying success. I like to take the extra time to walk to places to get to know the neighborhood. I occasionally volunteer as a participant in other people’s research. I’ve been doing this since graduate school. Social science studies are particularly interesting because the research questions have always been hush-hush, so the tasks seem very random sometimes.


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

Well I was a practicing engineer for a while before returning to school for a PhD. But let’s say if I weren’t any kind of scientist or engineer, I think I would want to be a detective. The use of reasoning and the long time required for something to be concluded seems like it would be similar between the two professions.


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

Work on research questions that excite you. Equipment failure and inconclusive results are generally unavoidable, and being excited to answer the question can help get you through those hard times to the much happier times of contributing new data and knowledge to the field.

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Themed Issue Open for Submissions: Chemistry of Atmospheric Pollutants

Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts seeks your highest impact research for our upcoming Themed Issue dedicated to Chemistry of Atmospheric Pollutants. 

Guest Edited by ESPI Editorial Board member Amila De Silva (Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canada), Max McGillen (French National Centre for Scientific Research, France), Jason Surratt (University of North Carolina, USA) and Cora Young (York University, Canada).

The goal of the issue is to present advances in molecular-level study of atmospheric chemical processes that form our critical understanding of pollutant emissions, transport, transformation, and deposition. Such research is particularly apt given the accelerated perturbations such as climate change, changing emissions (including emerging contaminants), land development and regulations.

Submissions are open from now until 31st April 2022

We welcome urgent Communications, Full papers and Reviews. Articles can be submitted using our online submission system: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/em. Upon submission, please add ‘Invited for the Chemistry of Atmospheric Pollutants 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: 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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