Medallist drawn to water

Jun 12, 2003, vol. 27, no. 4
By Carol Thorbes

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There's no life like research on the water to Elsie Sunderland (left). The Simon Fraser University graduand's passion for marine environments inspired her to immerse herself in academe and graduate with distinction.

Sunderland is the recipient of the dean of graduate studies medal in the faculty of applied sciences.

“I love being outside, on the water and doing field work,” says Sunderland, born and bred on the south shore of Nova Scotia. “I also love being able to integrate many different scientific disciplines and having a clear applied, policy, management component to my work.”

The BSc graduate of McGill University rolled her master's and doctoral work together in environmental toxicology.

She undertook research in atmospheric chemistry, environ-mental modeling, oceanography, geochemistry and biology while pursuing an ambitious project.

Using the Bay of Fundy as her laboratory, she studied the impact of coastal ecosystem processes on mercury levels in fish and shellfish.

Her goal was to understand why policies regulating mercury emissions from human activity are not translating into declined concentrations in organisms.

Sunderland developed a mathematical model that will help policymakers identify how much mercury can be released into the environment before concentrations in organisms exceed human and ecological health guidelines.

“We need to know this,” says Sunderland, “because much of the mercury from industrial sources, such as waste incinerators, will cycle through the environment for a long time after those sources have been phased out.”

Sunderland's research, one of 634 entries, garnered the 2002 best student platform award at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology, the largest international gathering of environmental toxicologists worldwide.

Sunderland, who enjoys marathon running when she's on land, is currently helping the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. develop better environmental models.

Sunderland is a high school graduate of Park View education centre in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.

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