HELPING PEOPLE THROUGH SCIENCE
How many environmental studies undergraduates are invited to present their research at a conference of professional scientists? Not many. But Jennifer Osorio joined the ranks of those select few as she reported to the fall 2012 regional gathering of the American Chemical Society in Baton Rouge, La.
Along with co-presenter senior Esther Hudson, and representing a team of seven student investigators from UST, budding scientist Osorio delivered results on 2012 research funded by the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Program, suggesting that Harris County’s treatment of wastewater comes up short.
The study confirmed the presence of endocrine disrupters in samples of treated wastewater. Endocrine disrupters are compounds that interfere with hormone systems in humans and wildlife.
“Our process required us to visit several different treatment plants in Northwest Harris County, collect one-liter samples of treated wastewater in special amber glass bottles and refrigerate them,” Osorio said.
The scope was confined to four different compounds, which were discovered in tiny but detectable amounts, according to Osorio.
Identifying such a minute presence called for the use of specialized High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) equipment.
“It was amazing to see such a teeny needle within the HPLC suck up a very small sample and then tell us what it contained,” Osorio said. “The one additional piece that would be good to incorporate in the future would be to also verify exactly how much of the compounds were present.”
The study allowed the students to draw a conclusion.
“What we can conclude from the study is that people are using these compounds and that our county’s filtration is not enough to get rid of them,” Osorio said. “I can now use our own research facts to advocate that there should be smarter practices with regard to wastewater filtration.”
Osorio wants to use science to help people.
She turned down a number of scholarship offers from other universities in order to accept one from St. Thomas, and she is glad she did.
“It more than met my criteria. I wanted a small campus near the Texas Medical Center with professors who take a personal interest in their students, and UST is close to where my family lives.”
The Environmental Science and Studies Department offers a uniquely integrated degree program featuring academic offerings in environmental science and studies, opportunities for field work in Texas and beyond, and a strong foundation in Catholic theology and environmental ethics.
Osorio’s plan is to complete her bachelor’s in environmental studies. Her goal is to then work for a couple of years before pursuing a master’s degree in water studies or environmental management.
“With my master’s degree, I will advise people on what they should be doing for the environment and hopefully they will listen to me.”