April 20, 2009

Hannah Fink ’09 Studies the Toxicity of the Herbicide Atrazine

Biology major will continue her studies in aquatic toxicology at University of Maryland

For her honors thesis, biology major Hannah Fink ’09 (Whitehall, Pa.) is putting together lab studies that will measure the toxicity of the herbicide atrazine. Fink, who is also a member of the College’s women’s soccer team, is working with Nancy Waters, associate professor of biology, and Steve Mylon, assistant professor of chemistry.

Atrazine is a common herbicide used in corn production that previous studies have shown to be an endocrine disruptor at low concentrations. My thesis will establish a method to measure atrazine and desethyl atrazine, one of atrazine’s degradation byproducts, for use in ecological toxicity studies on Hyalella azteca, a tiny crustacean related to the crayfish. I am looking at the fate of the two chemicals in the experimental aquatic system as well as the reproductive and developmental effects on the crustaceans.

My honors thesis is a crucial first step in preparing me for a career in aquatic toxicology. Next fall, I will be in the Ph.D. program in toxicology at University of Maryland. My purpose in pursuing a doctoral degree is with the long-term objective of conducting meaningful and novel research in either an academic setting or for the Environmental Protection Agency that will positively impact the health of the human race and the environment we live in. I am interested in studying the effects of emerging contaminants on aquatic systems and the method of toxicity for such organisms.

Since I am currently working with an aquatic system, I am learning methodology and techniques that can be applied to my graduate studies and future career. The analytical chemistry skills that I have acquired and am utilizing will also be a huge asset when entering a graduate program. In addition, conducting an honors thesis is beneficial in helping me to advance my writing skills and preparing me for a Ph.D. thesis.

Working with my thesis adviser, Professor Waters, has been a wonderful experience. She has been instrumental in helping me work through my initial experimental ideas in order to design a project that would be feasible given the time constraints of an undergraduate thesis. While Professor Waters is always available to provide advice and guidance on the project, she also allows me the independence I need to conduct the research. She is an inspiring person to work for and very knowledgeable in her field.

As a secondary adviser, Professor Mylon assists me in all of the chemistry aspects of my research. His knowledge and assistance in these chemical techniques has been a tremendous asset for my project. It has truly been a pleasure to work with him on this project as well as my previous EXCEL Scholars research.

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