Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology
Areas of Expertise: Environmental toxicology and science education
I’ve been interested in the sciences for as long as I can remember – making small electromagnets as a kid and blowing up hydrogen balloons that I filled by electrolyzing water in my bedroom. After majoring in chemistry at Boston College, I poked around for a year, eventually becoming interested in environmental science. I was lucky enough to get a position as an air pollution engineer with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and three years later decided to go to graduate school. Not one to be confined to a lab, I completed my masters research roaming around northern New Jersey measuring the impact of a waste incinerator on the local environment, and my doctoral research was spent in Oak Ridge, TN, carting around 200 lbs of field instruments to measure the emissions of mercury from soil.
The work in my lab focuses on understanding the chemistry and transport of environmental mercury. Mercury is a leading cause of advisories on fishing resources, and mercury deposited to the environment can be remobilized by various chemical phenomena. Most recently we have been studying the effect of deforestation on the release of mercury from soils. Intact forests and forest soils serve as a sink of environmental mercury, binding it and preventing its mobilization; loss of forests due to fire, environmental damage, or human encroachment can remobilize this metal and lead to significant human exposure. We are in the middle of a series of laboratory and field
studies taking place in both New York and the Brazilian Amazon to quantify how the loss of forests and forest fires contribute to mercury pollution and subsequent human exposure to the heavy metal.
Research training in my lab is best thought of as an apprenticeship: students work closely with me and other students in the lab conducting background research, designing experiments, carrying out experiments while learning about equipment and lab procedures, analyzing and interpreting results, and finally working toward presenting or publishing that work.