I’m a 32 year old female, enjoy long walks in the woods, and romantic dinners…
How did you get involved in your research project?
As is often the case, I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time! I was just finishing a postdoctoral fellowship conducting biofuels research using algae, when the opportunity arose to study the microbiology of drinking water in the lab of one of the most inspiring and influential people in my life, Dr. Norman Pace. Folks in the lab had talked about studying groundwater microbiology, but were stumped by how to find citizens who would allow us to sample their well water. With the help of a summer undergraduate assistant from the RESESS internship program, we wrangled some volunteers. But, things really took off when we teamed up with Stephen Osborn, a professor of geochemistry who was also interested in looking at the chemistry of well waters in Colorado using stable isotopes. We coordinated our sampling, which provided a much richer data set than I could have gotten on my own, and that provided really cool preliminary data that spurred the idea for this SciFund project.
Look, there’s no doubt that natural gas extraction is here to stay. It is cleaner than coal, and I do believe that it can be developed sustainably. My concern is that we are developing hydraulic fracturing without first understanding the potential risks to our water supplies. Not just from the act of fracking a well, but for the entire life-cycle of drilling, fracking, and ultimately disposing of the waste material. We should be taking a proactive approach to ensuring that public health and the environment are sufficiently protected before continued development of this vast energy source.
One of the most memorable homes we visit to sample was a farm and had a number of beautiful turkeys. Turkeys are quite curious creatures. They would gather around us while we sampled (believe me, it’s hard to keep a sample clean with a turkey around!), including a young male who was ready to mate. Apparently a male during mating season will peck at shiny objects thinking that it is a competing male. Our equipment has no shortage of shiny objects, so we had to endure a couple of “love taps” during our sampling routine.
Why did you decide to particpate in the SciFund Challenge?
I am a glutton for punishment! Kidding. The main reason is that I believe this is a really important project that has a direct impact on people’s lives. It seemed appropriate to reach out directly to the people for support.
The video! You don’t become a scientist for the fame, and talking to a video camera is about the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But despite the discomfort, it was my favorite creation.
You can find Lee’s project here.