The Communicative Power of Contemporary Art investigates how contemporary art can foster interdisciplinary relationships on current environmental issues. It involves two distinct but related projects, Upstream in which I author my own art installation about water quality in southwestern Montana, as well as Waterworks, a series of large-scale public art works in which I assist in production and educational programming. Through the TIE Environmental Fellowship I will expand the scope of these projects asking how these projects function to integrate scientific research on water conservation, artistic research that seeks to understand the communicative power of contemporary art, and how art can function for social and environmental change. Through participation in community panels, informal and formal interviews, discussions and other assessment methods I will evaluate the effectiveness of the public artworks in creating a community awareness and knowledge of water conservation. This project fosters collaboration within Tufts, between Tufts and Montana State University, and most importantly within the Bozeman and Southwestern Montana community. It fuses scientific and artistic research practices, utilizing both in the creation of a shared knowledge about environmental conservation and water resources.
Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus oxyrhynchus) are endangered after centuries of human-induced environmental disruptions. Examining parasite loading on the fish population will indicate stress levels during the spawning season, a gap in previous research. This study will characterize variations in parasite loading in Atlantic Sturgeon in the Hudson River over the duration of the spawning season. Studying variations in parasite loading is applicable to the broader goals of maintenance of the sturgeon population and recovery of the species and its environment.
My research involves collecting parasites from live Atlantic Sturgeon, determining severity of infection and identity of specimens. The overall parasite loading and diversity can be compared over the four-week breeding season. Further data will be collected on sex to compare to parasite loading. The results of this project will show how parasite burden varies within sturgeon populations and what effect this might have on survival or breeding success.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global public health threat, affecting humans and animals in every country. Antibiotics are becoming ineffective, making normally treatable infections difficult or impossible to treat. AMR bacteria are entering the marine environment through freshwater outflow, wastewater treatment runoff, and aquaculture. Rehabilitation facilities, where incapacitated wild animals are commonly treated with antibiotics before release, could act as another environmental entry point. This study will determine the temporal patterns of AMR bacteria cultured from rehabilitated Pacific harbor seals over the last 10 years in British Columbia, and compare them to trends observed in Atlantic harbor seals. We will retrospectively analyze medical records for harbor seals treated at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (MMRC) for AMR bacteria prevalence. We will swab harbor seal pups in rehabilitation at the MMRC during 2017 for culture and antimicrobial susceptibility testing upon admission and release into the wild. This will establish current AMR prevalence, and determine the associated risks and impact of rehabilitation on the animals’ AMR prevalence upon release into the environment.
Energy storage research and design has been a focal point for the advancement of renewable energy technologies, such as electric hybrid vehicles (EHVs) and remote solar and wind farms, typically accomplished by means of lithium-ion batteries. Recently, lithium metal batteries have received attention due to their ability to provide up to 2-3 times the energy density relative to existing lithium-ion batteries on the market today, creating the potential to develop a lighter, more compact battery. Lithium metal batteries utilize a high capacity lithium metal anode that is inherently unstable and requires optimization of the electrolyte-anode interface to fabricate a safe and long-lasting battery. My research aims to investigate the stability of a lithium metal battery utilizing our laboratory-developed solvate ionogel electrolyte comprised of a cost-effective ionic liquid, namely a solvate ionic liquid, that possesses low volatility that diminishes the risk of a fire.
Through increasing industrialization, environmental lead contamination has shown to be of concern for humans, animals, and environmental health. While animals may acquire lead toxicity through soil and water sources, humans can additionally obtain lead toxicity through urban farming practices. However, there is currently a lack of information on the level of environmental lead contamination. Therefore, we will perform a geospatial assessment of environmental lead exposure risk in the urbanized city of Somerville, Massachusetts. Sampling of soil in Somerville will be interpolated and combined with other variables to create a risk map to identify environmental lead contamination hotspots in Somerville. Furthermore, this map - combined with demographic data and animal land-use data - will offer a means to educate the public on a sustainable future in urban farming, promote conservation, and further research across other cities.
Jessica’s research interests include vulnerability of ecological systems, wetlands and avian ecology. Wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, especially in the Caribbean. The Caribbean’s diverse wetlands support one of the most remarkable events in the natural world, the large-scale migration of birds between continents. Trinidad and Tobago retain some of the largest remaining wetlands in the Caribbean and are a key link in a major migration route, over 100 species use the islands during their semi-annual journeys. Currently, Jessica is working on a project to evaluate the vulnerability of wetlands and wetland birds and the potential for mutual gains in human-wetland-bird networks in Trinidad and Tobago using an interdisciplinary social-ecological approach.
Industrial wastewater is a major source of environmental pollution. Heavy metals are among the most dangerous contaminants even at low concentrations. Metal ions are not biodegradable and can accumulate in the living organisms. They can be highly toxic by binding to cell membranes. This hinders their function, causes neuronal damage, bone toxicity and cancer. Membrane separation processes offer a green and energy efficient technology for removing heavy metal ions from surface water. Some of the major problems associated with commercial membranes include low binding capacities, low selectivity for metal ions, complicated fabrication routes and high operating pressure. Ilins’ studies focus on fabrication of novel membranes with small pore size (1-3 nm) by self-assembly of functional polymers that incorporate binding sites for metal ions in a single-step and scalable fabrication process. The proposed membranes can selectively bind to metal ions while simultaneously removing microbial and larger pollutants through size-based filtration at much lower pressure than current membranes. Thus, synergistically combining benefits from high flux and low operating pressure of current ultrafiltration membranes (i.e. membranes with pore size of 5-100 nm) with high selectivity and capacity of adsorption processes. She also aims to explore the feasibility of using these membrane adsorbers for compact, portable filtration units to provide safer water in rural areas, short-term crisis (e.g. natural disaster, war, humanitarian purposes) and even camping and hiking.
As population growth and climate change highlight the biophysical limitations of our planet, the ability to construct a sustainable food system is vital to both human and environmental health. While food production is clearly dependent on human labor and environmental resources, there is a lack of understanding around how these two inputs are in turn impacted by the agricultural system they are a part of. This research aims to identify and understand the interdependent outcomes of labor policy and environmental policy on farms in the US. Bringing together issues of labor, agriculture, immigration, environment and federal policy, this research seeks to demonstrate the relevance of labor in environmental research and policy making, expanding conventional thinking about what constitutes a sustainable agricultural system. The outcome will expose opportunities for better policy coordination across agencies to support the interdisciplinary goals of sustainability, social justice and health.
I am particularly excited to be going back to Guatemala for this research project. It is home to 23 Mayan groups with farming cultures that date back millennia, but currently 80% of the arable land is owned by 5% of the population which pushes many indigenous farmers onto marginal land. The impacts of these inequities were demonstrated in 2014 when an El Nino drought caused such wide crop failures that the World Food Programme provided emergency aid to 150,000 smallholder farmers in Guatemala while the country enjoyed 5-year record highs in the production of the water intensive export crops banana and sugar cane. This project seeks to work with stakeholders and civil society organizations from three Guatemalan departments (Quetzaltenango, Retalhuleu, and San Marcos) to develop a series of food system and water use models that will aid in decision making and in the advocacy work of the Pastoral de la Tierra of San Marcos (PT). The PT is a small branch of the Catholic Dioceses which focuses on resolving agricultural conflicts and promoting more sustainable and just agricultural systems.