EBS students win national paper competition

Christina Brow and Alexandra Salter
Christina Brow (on right) and Alexandra Salter checking a sample at the LEAP tank.

February 12, 2010

Portland, Ore. — Christina Brow and Alexandra Salter won two of the five awards from the Student Paper Competition at the Seventh International Conference on Remediation of Chlorinated and Recalcitrant Compounds.

Brow and Salter are graduate students studying environmental science and engineering in OHSU's Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems (EBS). Professor Paul Tratnyek, Salter's advisor and Associate Department head says, "These two awards reflect the continuing strength of the environmental science and engineering program, especially with respect to the characterization and remediation of contaminated groundwater."

Alexandra Salter's paper described the initial bench-scale material analysis and assessment of zero-valent zinc (ZVZ) for treating groundwater contaminated by 1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP). The paper goes on to describe scaling calculations for the parameterization of large treatment columns in the field. The results are being used in a pilot project to determine a successful method of treating contaminated well water at a military base in California.

TCP is recalcitrant to most methods of remediation, even reduction with zero-valent iron (ZVI), but is surprisingly responsive to reduction with ZVZ. "I would like to identify the fundamental reasons for this phenomenon to better understand and optimize TCP treatment, and other contaminant/reductant systems," says Salter.

Christina Brow exemplifies the kind of student EBS is trying to attract by emphasizing interdisciplinary science that investigates the interfaces between the environment and human health.

Brow submitted a paper on the preservation of biomolecules (i.e., DNA and RNA) within intact sediment samples, specifically the applicability of cryogenic preservation and storage for molecular biological analyses of sediment. The paper also described research on the importance of sediment samples, as opposed to groundwater samples, for identifying potential biodegradation "hotspots" that may exist on too fine a scale to be captured by conventional groundwater sampling.

The research illustrates that sediment microbial populations can change dramatically over very small scales (i.e. inches), and that cryogenic preservation and storage is a viable way to preserve the molecular characteristics of sediment samples.

"We are very pleased that she has received an award in the student paper competition," says one of Brow's two co-advisors, Holly Simon (Rick Johnson also co-advises Christina). "We feel that as a poster child for interdisciplinary environmental health science research, Chris is very deserving of this honor."

Brow and Salter received complimentary passes to the conference, copies of the proceedings, and a cash award. They will present their papers at the conference in Monterey, California this May.