Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

September 2016

Six promising Superfund trainees receive K.C. Donnelly awards

Six promising NIEHS-funded Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainees were awarded K.C. Donnelly Externship Award Supplements to fund their research at other institutions. The annual award, now in its sixth year, honors the memory of longtime SRP grantee and environmental health researcher Kirby (K.C.) Donnelly, Ph.D.

Sara Flanagan is a doctoral student at the City University of New York and a research associate of the Columbia University SRP Community Engagement Core. For her externship, she will collaborate with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Department of Health on community engagement and intervention strategies to increase the testing for arsenic in well water and motivate well owners to reduce their risk of exposure.

"Working closely with New Jersey State agencies will be a valuable opportunity to observe public health practice and better understand the end-users of the tools CEC is developing to assist with reducing arsenic exposure in private well communities," Flanagan said.

Angela Gutierrez is a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky SRP Center. Gutierrez will spend her externship at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Engineering Technical Support Center, focusing on quality assurance and laboratory procedures for evaluating new cleanup technologies.

"This opportunity will enhance my knowledge of emerging environmental remediation technologies and give me the skills required to successfully transfer laboratory work into field scale studies," Gutierrez said.

Jessica Laine is a doctoral student in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina. For her externship at the Columbia University SRP Center, she will expand on her current research to investigate the impact of folate supplements on the metabolism of arsenic in pregnant women and on birthweight.

"The K.C. Donnelly externship will be a unique experience that will promote interdisciplinary personal and career growth by enabling me to work with a highly dynamic group of diverse scientists,” Laine said.

Ralph Pietrofesa, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania SRP Center, will conduct his externship at Brown University. He will expand his research to explore the influence of synthetic flaxseed derivatives on the toxicity of copper-based nanoparticles, as well as gain valuable experience in toxicological research and analytical techniques.

"Having the opportunity to gain exposure to multiple disciplines, perspectives, and expertise will significantly contribute to my career development," Pietrofesa noted.

Aditi Sengupta, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona SRP Center. Sengupta will conduct an externship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, where she will learn advanced modeling skills, including development of predictive models of the microbial community, as well as environmental processes and functions related to soil stability.

"With the training I receive, I will be able to identify and study variables useful in microbial community modeling, and ultimately develop theoretical frameworks of modeling soil microbial community heterogeneity,” said Sengupta.

Renee Wurth, a doctoral student at the Northeastern University Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats SRP Center, will spend her externship at the University of California, Berkeley SRP Center. This externship will allow Wurth to learn new skills in water quality analysis, model and tool development, and dissemination of information.

"The K.C. Donnelly externship offers a unique opportunity to further my career development through gaining new analytical and translational skills to target and alleviate environmental health disparities in vulnerable local communities in California," she said.

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


Celebrating a renowned mentor and scholar

Donnelly was a dedicated mentor to his students and postdoctoral researchers, who impressed upon them the importance of applying their knowledge and findings to improve the health of communities exposed to environmental contaminants.

To honor Donnelly, who died in 2009 after a distinguished career with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, the award was created to support SRP graduate students and postdoctoral fellows pursuing transdisciplinary research. The award recognizes the importance of continuing research application and collaboration to promote human health.

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

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