STEEP Trainee Anna Robuck Named 2019 Switzer Fellow

The University of Rhode Island Superfund Research Program is pleased to announce that Trainee Anna Ruth Robuck, a URI doctoral candidate, has been selected as one of the 2019 Switzer Fellows. STEEP Trainee Robuck expressed her excitement regarding this opportunity to engage with other impassioned environmental leaders via the Switzer Network. “The Network offers an amazing breadth of expertise and enthusiasm among its fellows past and present,” noted Robuck. “I am energized by the opportunity to learn from network members and to apply that knowledge towards environmental and public health concerns related to PFAS and other chemical contaminants.”

Robuck looking at birds in South Africa as part of the Shearwater research team
Robuck in South Africa as part of Shearwater research team

A conversation with Robuck about her PFAS research reveals that she hardly needs greater energy or enthusiasm for her work. She no sooner received her award notice from Switzer than she was off to South Africa to carry out some lab and field work as part of the Shearwater research team at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which is also in pursuit of STEEP research to better understand the bioaccumulation of PFAS in wildlife. Robuck will be necropsying Shearwaters to bring back tissues and plastics. These samples will be used to ascertain what trophic signature Great Shearwaters possess as they fly north, what PFAS contaminant burden these birds are born with versus what they accrue in Massachusetts Bay, and what plastics they receive from parental care in the South Atlantic. To date, Robuck has necropsied birds from Stellwagen Bank, Narragansett Bay and the Cape Fear River Estuary.

A shearwater being studied for PFAS in the lab
Shearwater bird studied for PFAS

PFAS permeate the blood of 98% of Americans, and nearly every habitat on Earth, yet stark data gaps surround every aspect of PFAS occurrence and effects. Humankind has reached a critical point in its relationship with these forever chemicals—so named due to their strong structural bond—and their ubiquitous role in human and ecosystem maladies. The Switzer fellowship provides professional development, mentoring, and networking opportunities to assist Robuck in achieving her goal to be among the most effective researchers and advocates for precautionary chemical strategies and solutions.

Dr. Rainer Lohmann of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography serves as STEEP PI and co-lead with Dr. Philippe Grandjean of partner Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Lohmann also serves as Robuck’s major advisor. He expressed tremendous pride in her achievement and remarked, “She is the face of change as she aggressively addresses the most pressing environmental challenges of today. Her drive to address the challenge of PFAS contaminants is unstoppable.”

Robuck sitting on top of a Southern right whale skull in South Africa
Robuck sitting on top of a Southern right whale skull in South Africa

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