Ms. Elizabeth Martin, doctoral student in environmental sciences and engineering at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and trainee in the UNC Superfund Research Program (SRP), has been named recipient of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award. Ms. Martin presented a talk and accepted the award December 5 at the SRP annual meeting in Durham, NC, held in conjunction with the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Fest meeting, December 5-8.
[Photo: Left to right are Ms. Elizabeth Martin, UNC Chancellor Dr. Carol Folt, UNC associate professor Dr. Rebecca Fry and Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of NIEHS, at the December 5 presentation of the Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award to Ms. Martin.]
Ms. Martin’s research focuses on the impact of toxic metals upon human health. Specifically, she studies arsenic and cadmium and the ways disease risk, including risk for developing diabetes, is influenced by individuals’ differences in metabolizing these metals. Her career goals as an academic include community engagement and outreach, particularly to disadvantaged populations, and mentorship of young scientists, particularly those of color.
“I admire the late Dr. Karen Wetterhahn and am humbled and honored to be the recipient of the award named for her,” Ms. Martin said. “While at UNC, I have had the unique opportunity to conduct studies that examine the complex interplay between the environment and human health. I hope to continue conducting population-based multidisciplinary studies with a focus on the relationship between environmental exposure and human disease. No matter what the future holds, I will continue to promote science education among all communities as a means of self-empowerment.”
“Elizabeth is pursuing an entirely novel hypothesis in the environmental epigenetics field,” said Dr. Rebecca Fry, associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School, Superfund director and Ms. Martin’s adviser. “Her work is truly game-changing as it begins to explain how certain regions of the genome are targets of epigenetic modification as a result of environmental exposures. Her impressive publication record for such a young scientist is a testament to her drive and scientific acumen – there is no doubt that she will continue to be an outstanding leader in environmental health sciences.”
Dr. Karen E. Wetterhahn, for whom the award is named, was professor of chemistry and the Albert Bradley Third Century Professor in the Sciences at Dartmouth College. She died in 1997, at age 48, as a result of poisoning caused by the accidental spill of a few drops of dimethylmercury on her glove-covered hand.
The SRP established the annual award to recognize an outstanding graduate or postdoctoral researcher who best demonstrates Dr. Wetterhahn’s qualities of scientific excellence and dedication to teaching. The awardee receives support to attend a major scientific conference and travel funds to make a presentation at the annual SRP meeting.