Superfund Research Program
Congratulations to the 2018 winners of the KC Donnelly Externship Award!
Jitka Becanova, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher with Rainer Lohmann, Ph.D., at the University of Rhode Island Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center. For her externship, Becanova will travel to Providence, Rhode Island, to work with Robert Hurt, Ph.D., at the Brown University SRP Center.
Becanova's research focuses on improving detection of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in ocean water, biological samples, soil, and air. During the externship, she will study the sorption behavior of PFAS on advanced graphite-based nanomaterials with the aim of developing a passive sampler for detecting PFAS.
"This award will provide me with the opportunity to gain expertise in advanced nanomaterials under the guidance of a key leader in nanoscience research," said Becanova. "I look forward to learning new skills and cutting-edge techniques that will advance research direction and help me establish myself as an independent researcher in the United States."
Krisa Camargo is a pre-doctoral trainee under the mentorship of Anthony Knap, Ph.D., José Sericano, Ph.D., Yina Liu, Ph.D., Thomas J. McDonald, Ph.D., and Weihsueh Chiu, Ph.D., at the Texas A&M University SRP Center. Camargo will travel to Gloucester Point, Virginia, to work with Michael Unger, Ph.D., at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Her research focuses on characterizing and modeling how people are exposed to legacy contaminants within the Galveston Bay and Houston Ship Channel region of Houston, Texas, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Camargo will expand upon her work to develop a low-cost screening approach for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) using Unger's biosensor technology. The proposed screening tool will help prioritize sediment samples that should be analyzed for toxicity.
"This experience will allow me to strengthen my skill set and broaden the tools available for our SRP Center's work," noted Camargo. "I hope to use this transdisciplinary and translational project to create a screening method that could be used for rapid needs assessments during public health emergencies and to inform emergency responders in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Harvey."
Stephanie Eick is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia, working with the Northeastern University SRP Center under the mentorship of José Cordero, M.D. For her externship, Eick will travel to California to work with Craig Steinmaus, M.D., at the University of California, Berkeley SRP Center.
Eick's research aims to understanding the link between stress during pregnancy and preterm birth in Puerto Rico. During this externship, she will explore further how socioeconomic status, stress, and potentially harmful chemicals interact to impact human health throughout life, including chronic diseases such as cancer, hypertension, and diabetes.
"The KC Donnelly Externship will provide me with a unique opportunity to enhance my career development beyond what I could get as a doctoral student," Eick said. "The skills I will gain in data analysis techniques will also improve how we interpret and disseminate our findings in Puerto Rico."
Priyanka Kushwaha, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher with Raina Maier, Ph.D., at the University of Arizona SRP Center. For her externship, Kushwaha will travel to La Jolla, California, to work with Julian Schroeder, Ph.D., at the University of California, San Diego SRP Center.
Her research focuses on characterizing microbial diversity and understanding how microbes promote plant growth in nutrient-limited soils impacted by mines. The KC Donnelly Externship will allow Kushwaha to expand her work using plant metatranscriptomics, which measures the activity of genes, to better understand molecular mechanisms plants use to respond to environmental stressors such as metals. This research will inform improved strategies to reclaim mine waste sites.
"This externship experience will provide me with the advanced -omics skills that will allow me to better understand plant-microbial interactions," Kushwaha noted. "I also hope to network with plant biologists at UC San Diego to learn about additional useful molecular tools and seek opportunities for collaborative research projects in the future."
Laura Magaña is a first-year Ph.D. student with the UC Berkeley SRP Center under the guidance of Center Director Martyn Smith, Ph.D., and Luoping Zhang, Ph.D. She will travel to Corvallis, Oregon, to work with Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., at the Oregon State University (OSU) SRP Center.
Magaña's research uses animal models to study how formaldehyde, a widespread environmental pollutant, affects human health. Through this externship, she will expand her work by incorporating behavioral and developmental screening tests with zebrafish, a high-throughput platform developed in the Tanguay lab. This multidisciplinary research also will include targeted and global gene expression assays.
"The KC Donnelly Externship will provide me with the opportunity for advanced training in skills to evaluate developmental and behavioral toxicity and to process whole genome assessment data," Magaña said. "I also look forward to leveraging and strengthening the collaboration between the OSU and UC Berkeley SRP Centers, which will continue to benefit both Centers far into the future."
Anne Nigra is a doctoral candidate with the Columbia University SRP Center under the mentorship of Center Director Ana Navas-Acien, Ph.D. Nigra will travel to Eagle Butte, South Dakota, to work with Carlyle Ducheneaux at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.
Nigra's research focuses on characterizing human exposure to metals, including through drinking water and diet, and understanding environmental contributions to cardiovascular disease. She will expand her research during the externship by collecting and analyzing environmental mercury monitoring data. She also will engage with residents on a community-directed research project.
"The KC Donnelly Externship will provide me with valuable training in conducting community-directed research, training, and mentoring local students in environmental health sciences; conducting exposure assessments through population-based environmental monitoring; and community engagement and results dissemination," Nigra said. "Through this experience I hope to develop a model that can be translated into future prevention strategies for other contaminants of interest at the Columbia SRP Center."
Rishabh Shah is a second-year Ph.D. student with the University of Kentucky SRP Center under the guidance of J. Zach Hilt, Ph.D., and Thomas Dziubla, Ph.D. For this externship, he will travel to Baltimore, Maryland, to work with Upal Ghosh, Ph.D., at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Shah's current research aims to develop cutting-edge crosslinked polymers that can selectively capture polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds in contaminated water and soil. Shah will expand his work in developing polymers and transfer it toward developing field monitoring approaches during his externship. This work will use Shah's novel polymers to develop field-ready advanced passive samplers for PCBs and methylmercury.
"The KC Donnelly Externship will enable me to learn new techniques that are critical for me to transfer my laboratory research into a field-deployable technology," noted Shah. "This experience will provide me with a solid foundation and invaluable skills for my long-term goals as an academic researcher."
Savannah Volkoff is a doctoral student with the Duke University SRP Center under the mentorship of Claudia Gunsch, Ph.D. For her externship, Volkoff will travel to Baltimore, Maryland, to work with Upal Ghosh, Ph.D., at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Volkoff's research is focused on engineering and stimulating microbial biofilms to bioremediate PAHs in historically polluted sites. Through her externship, she will expand on this work to explore the use of activated carbon as a delivery mechanism for biofilms optimized with PAH-degrading microorganisms. This research will help Volkoff scale up her remediation approach to the field.
"This externship will provide me with a better understanding of how remediation technologies are developed and implemented," she said. "It will also give me perspective on how physical and biological remediation approaches can be combined to reduce contaminants in the environment and protect human health."