By Lisandra Santiago-Delgado, Project 5 Trainee
Earlier this summer I conducted research at the USEPA Robert S. Kerr Research Laboratory in Ada, Oklahoma under the guidance of Dr. Eva L. Davis. This experience was made possible through the KC Donnelly Externship Award Supplement that I received in late April.
The main objective of my externship was to collaborate and learn from Dr. Davis, an expert in the field of thermal remediation of contaminated soils and groundwater. I focused on utilizing steam injections on a laboratory scale to thermally remediate creosote-contaminated Superfund soils.
Another goal of this externship was to understand the chemical processes that occur during and after remediation. I looked at measurements of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and their transformation to oxygenated PAHs (oxy- and hydroxy-PAHs) in soils, as well as their potential developmental toxicity and mutagenicity.
This partnership was a great fit, because it combined the expertise of Dr. Davis, involving thermal remediation of soil, with our expertise in soil analysis for PAHs and oxygenated PAHs, and toxicity assays in our SRP Project 3, directed by Dr. Robert L. Tanguay.
I have always considered a career path with the federal government. This experience allowed me to experience first-hand what it would be like. Preparing to work in a federal facility was probably, and surprisingly, one of the greatest initial challenges of the project. It included paperwork, security clearance procedures, and training, among many other things.
Having the opportunity to meet, collaborate, and have one-on-one conversations with Dr. Davis was a fulfilling experience, especially since she is a female scientist. I also met other scientists working in the same facility, but base their research here in the Willamette Valley. Other experiences included participating in their weekly seminars, where they present trending topics of importance to the environment and the USEPA, as well as their own research updates.
Outside of research, weather was a big challenge, especially since my externship began in the middle of tornado season. One afternoon I had to spend over a half hour in a closet while the sirens were blaring. My next visit will be before May, for sure!
The externship was definitely an incredible experience, and it provided me with better understanding of thermal remediation and new knowledge about soil and how chemicals behave underneath the surface. I encourage other SRP trainees to apply for the KC Donnelly Externship Award Supplement. You will not regret it, and the outcome will be very valuable for your current research and future work as well.