Department of Biological Sciences

Research Profile: Heidi Scherr, Biology

December 12, 2011

Heidi Scherr's master's research was on water bird ecology, and after she received her Master's degree from Trent University, she found that she needed a broader challenge.

She found her challenge in her PhD research in SFU's Department of Biological Sciences, where she's working with an interdisciplinary team of academic and government supervisors: Dr. Tony Williams (Biological Sciences), Dr. Tim Beischlag (Health Sciences), and Dr. John Elliott (Environment Canada) in the field of ecotoxicology.

Ecotoxicology is the study of toxins in the environment, and what harmful effects they may have on living organisms. Specifically, her research focuses on two commercially used brominated flame retardants, and tests the effects they have on the endocrine system.

She has recently discovered that one of the flame retardants being tested may have the potential to interfere with the human androgen receptor, and in November 2011, presented that research at the annual Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) conference.

This is important research, as many consumer products contain flame retardants and preservatives — used by millions of people every day, but with unknown possible toxic effects. She hopes that her research may prove that some of these flame retardants and compounds are unnecessary or even dangerous.

Heidi hesitates to come to a firm conclusion, as her research is still in progress, but she says, "We are exposed to hundreds of persistent organic pollutants everyday found in furniture, electronics, clothing, cosmetics, even household dust.  This research is part of a much larger project established by Environment Canada of trying to determine which of these compounds have the potential to affect growth, behavioural development, and reproductive success in both people and wildlife."

SFU supports her research. She received an SFU entrance scholarship in her first year, and has received travel awards from the SFU Graduate Student Society, the Department of Biological Sciences, and from SETAC to present at its conference.

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