Superfund Research Program
Congratulations to the 2021 winners of the K.C. Donnelly Externship Award!
Christian Bako is a doctoral student with the University of Iowa Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center under the mentorship of Jerry Schnoor, Ph.D., and Tim Mattes, Ph.D. For his externship, Bako will work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Center for Public Health and Environmental Assessment.
Bako's research focuses on cleaning up polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in contaminated sediments using bacterial cultures. Through this externship, Bako will support a project using systematic evidence mapping to evaluate thousands of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This project will enhance his familiarity with PFAS' wide-ranging physical and chemical properties and associated toxicological effects, data management strategies, and data visualization techniques.
“The K.C. Donnelly Externship will allow me to expand my skillset regarding persistent environmental contaminants and make a valuable contribution to the EPA's assessment of emerging contaminants, such as PFAS," said Bako. "This work will equip me with the knowledge and skills required to begin my career at the intersection of risk assessment, remediation, and environmental policy."
Victoria Colvin is a graduate research fellow with the Oregon State University SRP Center, working under the mentorship of Susan Tilton, Ph.D., and Center Director Robyn Tanguay, Ph.D. For her externship, Colvin will work with Bevin Engelward, Ph.D., at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) SRP Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Colvin's research focuses on evaluating how exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) alter cellular metabolism in lung cells. Through the externship, Colvin will become proficient in a DNA damage assay that can be used to assess the toxicity of PAHs in lung cells.
"After completing the K.C. Donnelly Externship, I plan to train others in the Tilton lab on this assay method, allowing it to be incorporated into future experiments," said Colvin. "It will open doors to explore new hypotheses that relate to DNA damage."
Alexandra Cordova is a doctoral student at the Texas A&M University SRP Center under the mentorship of Center Director Ivan Rusyn, M.D., Ph.D. For her externship, Cordova will work with Jared Crochet, Ph.D., at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
Cordova's research focuses on chemically characterizing complex mixtures to understand how spilled substances may behave during a disaster event. For her externship, Cordova will focus on the airborne fraction of these mixtures, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as additional sources of exposure that can arise from environmental disasters. She will utilize advanced spectral imaging and remote sensing to obtain a more complete understanding of all sources of exposure.
"I am confident that an externship with Los Alamos National Laboratory will advance my expertise in environmental chemistry, diversify my portfolio of scientific experience, and deepen my perspective of the crosstalk between applied chemistry and toxicology," said Cordova.
Subham Dasgupta, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral scholar with the Oregon State University SRP Center under the guidance of Tanguay. Dasgupta will travel to the Dartmouth College SRP Center to work with Bruce Stanton, Ph.D., and Britton Goodale, Ph.D.
Dasgupta studies the mechanisms and effects of PAH toxicity, including cognitive and behavioral deficits in adult zebrafish. Through the externship, Dasgupta will receive training on single cell sequencing and bioinformatic analyses, which will result in a better understanding of the biology driving PAH-induced behavioral disruptions.
"From the K.C. Donnelly Externship, I expect to gain crucial knowledge about molecular responses within specific brain areas," said Dasgupta. "It will also result in the discovery of possible markers of exposure that potentially drive persistent behavioral changes following short-term developmental exposures to contaminants such as PAHs."
Matthew Dunn is a doctoral candidate at the University of Rhode Island SRP Center under the mentorship of Center Director Rainer Lohmann, Ph.D. For his externship, Dunn will travel to Chicago to work with Matt Notter and Frank Cassou, J.D., in the laboratory of SRP-funded small business Cyclopure, Inc.
Dunn's research focuses on developing detection tools for emerging contaminants, such as PFAS. He is currently validating a passive sampler to measure PFAS in water. Through his externship, Dunn aims to use Cyclopure's novel sorbent material to improve the design of his passive sampler by increasing its specificity and making it more affordable, reusable, and reliable. He will also receive training on analytical data interpretation and statistical modeling techniques.
"The K.C. Donnelly externship will provide an opportunity to learn how creative experimental design can relate to the research and design needs of remediation and monitoring-focused companies, like Cyclopure," said Dunn. "The insights gained from this externship will allow me to develop an affordable and simple solution to widespread PFAS monitoring in drinking, surface, and groundwater."
Luisa Feliciano is a doctoral student at Northeastern University's Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) SRP Center working with Ingrid Padilla, Ph.D., and Center Director Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D. For her externship, Feliciano will work remotely with Major Sean Griffin at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Geospatial Research Laboratory.
Feliciano's doctoral research focuses on modeling groundwater flow and contaminant transport in karst systems. Karst is a type of landscape where the dissolving of the bedrock has created sinkholes, sinking streams, caves, or springs. Through the externship, Feliciano will train on the core concepts and models behind geospatial artificial intelligence and machine learning to discover patterns in her research data, and to construct predictive mathematical models of groundwater contaminant fate and transport.
"The KC Donnelly Externship will provide me the opportunity to explore and train on advanced computational techniques," said Feliciano. "By studying the feasibility of using such techniques in real-world applications, I can provide the PROTECT team with state-of-the-art algorithms to forecast complex karst system behaviors."
Molly Frazar is a doctoral candidate under the mentorship of J. Zach Hilt, Ph.D., at the University of Kentucky SRP Center. For her externship, Frazar will work with Amanda Persad, Ph.D., from the EPA. Although most of this training will occur virtually, Frazar will conduct on-site visits to the EPA's facilities in Washington, D.C. and Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Frazar's research seeks to develop inexpensive and reusable sorbents that can selectively bind and capture PFAS. Through her externship, Frazar will learn new computational tools used in evidence analysis and how to conduct systematic reviews and environmental impact assessments.
"This K.C. Donnelly Externship project will provide me with educational opportunities in the development of human health and ecological risk assessment," said Frazar. "This will equip me with a deeper understanding of how best to apply environmental research in supporting legislative decision-making related to risk assessment."
Kamila Murawska-Wlodarczyk is a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona SRP under Alicja Babst-Kostecka, Ph.D., and Center Director Raina Maier, Ph.D. Murawska-Wlodarczyk will travel to the University of California, San Diego SRP Center and receive training from Julian Schroeder, Ph.D.
Murawska-Wlodarczyk's research investigates interactions between plants and soil microorganisms to better understand their role in the successful remediation and restoration of mine tailings. Through her externship, she will study metal tolerance in drought- and salt-resistant shrubs, some of which successfully grow on mine tailings.
"Expanding my scope of skills and knowledge through the K.C. Donnelly Externship will be extremely beneficial for my scientific and professional development," said Murawska-Wlodarczyk. "By adding this new aspect to my research, I will strengthen my ability to participate in interdisciplinary science and deepen my understanding of the metal tolerance and accumulation phenomena in plants."
Ariel Robinson is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky SRP Center under the mentorship of Center Director Kelly Pennell, Ph.D. For her externship, Robinson will spend two months working with Detlef Knappe, Ph.D., at the North Carolina State University SRP Center in Raleigh.
Robinson combines information on piping infrastructure with PFAS fate and transport science to identify and reduce potential exposures. For example, her team identified PFAS in air as an important and overlooked source of exposure. Through her externship, Robinson will learn advanced sample collection and preparation techniques as well as analytical methods for examining air samples containing PFAS. She will also be introduced to mass spectrometry methods that target over 50 different PFAS compounds.
"This externship will provide hands-on experience that will allow me to learn the analytical workflow of PFAS chemicals," said Robinson. "This project is the first step in becoming a specialist in environmental remediation, a long-term career goal of mine."
Bridger Ruyle is a doctoral trainee at Harvard University advised by Elsie Sunderland, Ph.D., as part of the STEEP SRP Center at the University of Rhode Island. For his externship, Ruyle will work with Suzanne Fenton, Ph.D., at the National Toxicology Program Laboratory.
Ruyle's work focuses on characterizing PFAS in aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF), used in firefighting, and contaminated surface water in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He has developed analytical and statistical tools to measure PFAS that are found in high concentrations in the environment but are not well studied. For his externship, Ruyle will conduct a study using mice to investigate absorption, distribution, and elimination of PFAS in AFFF as well as any associated health effects.
"The K.C. Donnelly Externship will allow me to plan and conduct self-directed research while exploring the biological side of exposure science, complementing my prior training in environmental chemistry," said Ruyle. "This experience will also provide critical public health context to my research and diverse skills and models that I can use as an early career scientist."
Brittany Saleeby is a doctoral student at the University of California (UC), Davis under the mentorship of Thomas Young, Ph.D. For her externship, Saleeby will work with Lee Ferguson, Ph.D., at the Duke University SRP Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Saleeby's research uses non-targeted analysis to identify and measure multiple unknown chemicals in complex mixtures of environmental contaminants. This externship will build on a collaboration that Saleeby has been a part of between UC Davis and Duke to integrate each center's non-targeted mass spectrometry data and facilitate data sharing and reuse. Through her externship, she will learn how to apply non-targeted analytical approaches to a broader range of environmental samples, like surface water and soil, and gain advanced statistical and analytical skills for developing new non-targeted analysis techniques.
"This opportunity will give me the chance to further develop my proficiencies in computer science and data analysis," said Saleeby. "In the future, I plan to use the non-target analysis knowledge I've gained to understand contaminant transport via atmospheric deposition."
Breandon Taylor is a doctoral candidate with the University of Louisville SRP Center under the mentorship of Center Director Sanjay Srivastava, Ph.D. For his externship, he will travel to the Louisiana State University SRP Center to train under the supervision of Alexandra Noel, Ph.D., and Arthur Penn, Ph.D.
For his doctoral research, Taylor explores the associations between exposure to VOCs and cardiovascular disease. Through this externship, Taylor will work to improve conventional lab approaches for studying lung injury from long-term VOC exposure and generate a better understanding of how exposure may contribute to the development of cardiovascular diseases.
"This collaborative K.C. Donnelly Externship experience between Superfund programs will be highly beneficial to my growing skillset and development as a scientist," said Taylor. "Furthermore, our more realistic approach could allow for other VOCs of interest to be explored."
Skarlet Velasquez is a graduate student with the Northeastern University SRP Center under the mentorship of José Cordero, M.D., at the University of Georgia. For her externship, Velasquez will work with Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., at the Dartmouth College SRP Center.
Velasquez studies the relationship between exposure to flame retardant chemicals and adverse pregnancy outcomes in pregnant women from Northern Puerto Rico. Through this externship, Velasquez will use silicone wristbands to measure exposure to multiple pollutants, including flame retardant chemicals and phthalates, in the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study. She will explore the association between chemical exposures during pregnancy and birth outcomes while learning new data analytic techniques.
"Through the K.C. Donnelly Externship, I will gain a deeper understanding and first-hand experience of advanced methods for analyzing relationships using environmental exposure data," said Velasquez. "These skills will have long-lasting applications for my current doctoral work and my future research career."
Guobin Xia, Ph.D.
Guobin Xia, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral associate at the Baylor College of Medicine SRP Center under the mentorship of Center Director Bhagavatula Moorthy, Ph.D. For his externship, Xia will work both in person and remotely with Center Director Bruce Hammock, Ph.D., at the University of California, Davis SRP Center.
Xia is studying how an excess supply of oxygen and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from cigarette smoking and environmental pollutants harms lung development and function. Through his externship, he will investigate whether a soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) inhibitor protects against lung injury in newborn mice exposed to an excess supply of oxygen and prenatal administration of PAHs. The Hammock lab discovered sEH and identified it as a critical therapeutic target in reducing inflammation and harm resulting from exposure to hazardous agents.
“The K.C. Donnelly Externship will foster my development into an independent scientist," said Xia. “Visiting the Hammock laboratory will significantly enhance my research in the area of environmental health research."