Understanding Mercury Toxin in Natural Environments

Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 11:27 am

Methylmercury, a toxin that builds up in fish, has serious health consequences for humans.

Elena Jaffer ’14 and Keaton Cameron-Burr ’15 spent the summer studying the production of this toxin in natural environments in a mentored advanced project with Andrew Graham, chemistry. The three of them spent five weeks conducting field research at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland, then returned to Grinnell to complete experiments and measurements.

In their research, they examined how geochemical factors such as dissolved organic mater, sulfide, and iron impact the production of the toxin by bacteria. The students gained experience in fields sampling, analytical chemistry, data analysis, scientific communication, and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Their research is part of an ongoing collaboration with Cynthia Gilmour at SERC, and they are contributing to the writing of peer-reviewed journal articles and planning on presenting their findings at a national meeting.