My final Director's Letter for the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) Science Digest fittingly coincides with our celebration of 35 years of the program. I will retire from my position at NIEHS in December.
When I became SRP's first director, I envisioned serving a short term before exploring other career paths. But the incredible support from my mentors at NIEHS — Kenneth Olden, Sam Wilson, David Schwartz, Linda Birnbaum, and others — kept me on this journey. The unmatched program staff within SRP over the years have also been instrumental in bringing the vision for this program to life.
Outside of NIEHS, I have much enjoyed working with and getting to know many of you. Over the years, we have shared enriching conversations while enjoying good food across the country, and sometimes around the world.
When the SRP was established in 1987, bridging biomedical and engineering fields was a major innovation. SRP's pioneering nature has attracted a broad group of the nation's top environmental and human health researchers.
Our multidisciplinary, systems-thinking approach has spurred new areas of inquiry and tackled complex questions, placing SRP grantees at the cutting edge of environmental health sciences research.
In addition to scientific accomplishments, SRP funding has supported development of robust research networks and infrastructure that has led to strong long-term relationships with communities. It has also positioned grantees to inform better health protections for those most susceptible to the health impacts of hazardous exposures.
One early example — children’s health — is personal for me. By connecting people across the SRP program and elsewhere, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley launched one of the first outreach cores, a collaboration with the Children's Environmental Health Network. Today, that network is a national, multidisciplinary organization celebrating 30 years of research and leadership, and informing policy to better protect and promote children's health.
SRP has always had a firm commitment to training the next generation of scientific leaders and providing diverse opportunities for them to advance their research and careers. Over 2,500 trainees, including Wetterhahn Award Winners, K.C. Donnelly Externship Award Winners, and others, have gone on to do great things across all sectors. They bring the unique multidisciplinary perspective of the program with them to probe new research questions, identify solutions, and push toward a healthier, more sustainable, and resilient future.
When I reflect on all the fine science of this landmark program and the many impacts that SRP science has had, I feel honored and humbled. It has been exciting to be part of the growth and evolution of the SRP and to have the opportunity to work with such an impressive group of investigators.
This edition highlights several significant outcomes of the program, but I want to stress that they only scratch the surface of the outstanding contributions made by SRP-funded researchers in the last 35 years.
I want to personally thank each of you for making the program what it is today. As I sign off for the last time as SRP's director, it's time to move on to the next chapter! I look forward to continuing to promote environmental health through global partnerships — including in Asia where I was a Fulbright scholar — and to connecting people who share research interests.
The SRP has a long, distinguished record of accomplishments and a promising future for tackling new environmental, human health, and scientific questions while also responding to emerging challenges and public health emergencies. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors and know you will continue to do great things.