Judith Zelikoff, Ph.D., received the 2018 Society of Toxicology (SOT) Education Award for her significant contributions to toxicology education. Zelikoff makes toxicology research accessible and actionable to a range of audiences, from the general public to student trainees.
As director of the Community Engagement Core (CEC) within the New York University (NYU) Environmental Health Sciences Core Center, Zelikoff brings toxicology education to underserved New York and New Jersey communities. With the CEC team, she teaches community members about how exposure to heavy metals, air pollution, and chemicals in the environment can affect their health, and how to reduce their exposure to these pollutants.
According to Zelikoff, the underserved communities she works with are impacted by high levels of environmental contaminants in the fish they eat, foods they grow and consume, or air they breathe.
“Education and knowledge can create power — it is the key to protecting public health,” said Zelikoff. “We have a social and ethical responsibility to translate our knowledge to communities impacted by environmental pollutants.”
Zelikoff’s lab examines how exposure to inhaled air pollutants affect the immune system and reproductive and developmental processes. Within the Center, she leads the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, working group and is also an active member of the exposure assessment and cardiovascular working groups.
She leverages her own research to prepare the next generation of environmental health scientists. She has provided research experiences to 12 high school and ten undergraduate students and has successfully mentored 30 masters students and ten doctoral students. She has also advised students from several developing nations to examine the health effects of electronic waste.
Zelikoff joined the faculty at the NYU School of Medicine in 1982, where she presently serves as a tenured full professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine. A member of SOT since 1986, she has been very active in education initiatives, serving as chair of the Education Committee and the Committee for Diversity Initiatives. She is past-president of the SOT Ethical, Legal, Forensics, and Societal Issues Specialty Section and councilor of the Inhalation and Respiratory Specialty Section. In 2015, she was awarded the Mentoring Award from the SOT Women in Toxicology Special Interest Group
Core Center Scientists Work Together to Address Community Concerns
When working with NYU Core Center community partners, some of the most frequent questions Zelikoff hears include:
- “Am I exposed?”
- “Is the contamination making me sick?”
- “I can’t afford to move, what should I do?”
For answers to these questions, Zelikoff turns to Center scientists. Researchers from the Center’s Integrated Health Science Facility Core (IHSFC) and Exposure Core have worked with residents to collect and test biological samples from community members to better understand the level of metal exposure in the community and the pathways by which people are being exposed.
Zelikoff emphasizes the importance of reporting back results to the community partners. She notes that Center scientists will report their results back to the community at an open Town Hall meeting, and the CEC will support the development of infographics to help translate the research results.