• Grew up in Shakopee, Minnesota
• For fun not related to science, she participates in yoga and knitting
Q. It’s great to see someone so fired up for science. What makes you so passionate?
A. The mystery makes me so passionate. There is so much about the world around us the science community still has not yet figured out. I also love to feed off the passion of my colleagues. Science and math have always come easily to me ever since I was little and it helped that from the beginning I loved it. I am always in the pursuit of learning—I honestly just can’t get enough of learning new things.
Q. You spent last summer at an internship researching airborne mercury isotope ratios at US Geological Survey. For non-science people, what does that mean? And why do we need to know?
A. I worked for the US Geological Survey’s Mercury Research Lab in Middleton Wisconsin. A lot of the work they do there is testing the water, soil, and foliage for things like total mercury concentrations and methylmercury concentrations. Methylmercury is known to bioaccumulate or build up through the food chain. For humans and all animals alike methylmercury is known to be toxic. It can cause birth defects and neurological problems when consumed in high enough quantities.
Isotopes are a change in the nucleus structure of the atom. Mercury has seven different isotopes. The isotope can give a better picture of where the mercury came from. Mercury from a power plant would have a different structure from mercury in the soil and is different than mercury found in water. In areas where mercury is a problem, this can help pinpoint where the mercury is coming from. It can also be used as a tracer through the environment, if a certain quantity of a single isotope is placed somewhere, a scientist can track where it travels to.
Q. Now you are taking that research a step further. Tell me about your senior capstone project and how USGS and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa are helping out.
A. Total mercury concentrations follow a similar pattern as CO2 does throughout the year. Hg and CO2 see a peak in concentrations in the winter and a low in concentrations in the summer, both due to the amount of foliage. What has not been even looked at yet is the relative concentration amounts of each of the seven isotopes throughout the year. So what I am trying to do is capture the mercury isotopes in order to look at the concentrations of each.
The USGS is helping out by sending their support and providing the necessary equipment for the data collection. This is also a learning opportunity for them. The method I am using is relatively new to them and they are hoping to use it on future nationwide isotope protects. This is the first time they are running this for this long of a time and is at a location they have not tried to collect isotope data in. I’m thankful to the Bad River Band for allowing us to use their air site for our instruments.
Q. Have you made plans for after graduation yet?
A. I am on the graduate school search. I hope to get into a school and begin in fall of 2016. I am looking into atmospheric sciences programs with an emphasis in cloud physics and chemistry.