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Deborah Bebout (Chemistry – homepage) – Metal Toxicology and Bioinorganic Chemistry
Elizabeth Malcolm (Geology, Virginia Wesleyan – homepage) – Ocean and Atmospheric Science
The major focus of my research effort at this time is development of new tools to investigate metal toxicology. Since heavy metals are persistent and accumulate in ecosystems, humanity’s growing reliance on metal resources compels the development of new tools to investigate metal toxicology. Elucidation of biologically relevant heavy metal binding motifs is fundamentally critical to toxicological assessment. My research group is specifically interested in the development of new NMR methods for toxicological assessment.
Since 2005, Cristol’s undergraduate and Masters students have been studying the effects of mercury on birds in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Industrial mercury contaminated the South River in the 1930s and 40s, and is still circulating in the ecosystem, affecting both aquatic and terrestrial birds. Research focuses on documenting the reproductive and health effects of methylmercury on swallows and other songbirds, and discovering how aquatic mercury enters the terrestrial food web.
In the Spring 2008 semester Cristol co-taught a new cross-disciplinary course on mathematical modeling of mercury in the environment. A team of 15 biology and Math majors worked together to model the processes involved in getting mercury from coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley to pristine northern lakes, and then to model what happens to the mercury and how it works its way through the food chain to end up in Common Loons. The class goal was to attempt to produce an answer to the deceptively simple question “If X amount of mercury is cleaned up from the power plant emissions, loon populations will increase by Y.”
The goal of my research is to describe chemical and physical processes operating near the earth’s surface, with a focus on quantifying sediment transport, chemical weathering, and the fate of carbon and contaminants in the environment. My aim is to understand how processes at the earth’s surface are affected or disrupted by anthropogenic activities (groundwater withdrawal, acid and metal pollution, urban development) and global change. I develop and apply a number of lab and field-based approaches to quantify surface processes operating on timescales from months to millennia, including i) watershed solid and solute budgets, ii) lithogenic, artificial, and cosmogenic radionuclide tracers, and iii) quantitative characterization of soil mineralogy and soil profile development.
Professor Newman and Professor Xiong Li (Central China Normal University) taught an internationalized version of Fundamentals of Ecotoxicology, simultaneously, in China and at W&M (Spring 2008). Rightly or wrongly, China is currently being blamed for much of the world’s mercury pollution, and this “environmental scapegoating” may stall efforts to curb domestic mercury pollution in the United States. Thus, the issue of mercury plays an important role in US-China relations with respect to environmental issues.
All students used Prof. Newman’s textbook, which is also available in a Chinese translation. Students on both continents were assigned the same readings, homework and quizzes, and had the opportunity to compare results. A select group of 3-5 Chinese and 3-5 American students enrolled in an extra credit mercury research project. [See Photos and Travel Blog - China 2008]
VIMS Graduate Teaching Fellow Erica Holloman will offer lectures and discussion leadership focused on environmental risk assessment for environmental justice for the SOC150W: Community Health Issues course. Ms. Holloman’s contribution to the course is truly interdisciplinary: she will educate students about the biochemical process for detecting mercury contamination in water and fish, train them to use community-based participatory research methods for determining health disparities between racial populations, and introduce them to an active coalition in the East End community of Newport News, Virginia whose efforts are focused on multiple aspects of community health, including air pollution and human exposure to mercury pollution. Ms. Holloman will supervise the Community Health students’ study of socio-demographic and cultural variation in exposure to global pollutants as a means toward empowering the East End community to act on its own behalf for environmental justice.
Prof. Xiong Li’s group (Dept. of Biology, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, Hubei province) taught the Fundamentals of Ecotoxicology and brought three students from China to visit William and Mary in February 2008. In turn, this group hosted four William and Mary students, along with Professors Newman and Zuber in June 2008 (see Photos and Travel Blog – China 2008).