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Government Bond: Chemistry Alumni Work in Nationís Top Labs

Chemists employed by the CDC, EPA and FDA are representative of the Chemistry Departmentís long history of preparing its graduates for professional success.

Date: 8/13/2012
By: Tom Robinette
Phone: (513) 556-8577
If you were to compare teaching chemistry to a chemical reaction, then any scientist would tell you how important it is to have quantifiable results.

And in that case, the Chemistry Department in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences has a good measure of its pedagogical aptitude: a proud history spanning more than 130 years of preparing graduates for immediate professional success and long-term careers in the industry.

Many chemistry graduates have even gone on to work for federal agencies, practicing innovative science in gold-standard laboratories where the ripple effects of their research are felt by all Americans. Here, we ask three questions of three of the departmentís graduates who have established themselves at some of our nationís highest-profile governmental labs.
Cynthia Striley is a research chemist for a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and she also serves in the United States Public Health Service.

David D. Kryak (PhD, í90)
Environmental Protection Agency
Kryak, a Philadelphia native, is the director of research planning and coordination for the Director of Research Planning and Coordination for US Environmental Protection Agencyís National Exposure Research Laboratory.

He leads more than 300 scientists who work to identify the research needs to support development and implementation of regulations, policy and guidance to protect human health and the environment. His staff focuses on the needs relative to exposure science research, which deals with exposure to various human or environmental stressors. The four major areas of concentration include Air, Climate and Energy; Safe and Sustainable Water Resources; Chemical Safety and Sustainability; and Sustainable Healthy Communities.

What is one of the biggest challenges for your lab?
We need to understand a lot to make good decisions. We need to know what we are exposed to, what levels, how often and how; if what we are exposed to is hazardous and at what level; where does the pollutant come from; and how do we control how much is introduced into the environment. My laboratory is only part of the big picture, and many of our accomplishments require close coordination with the health laboratory and the risk management laboratory. The group I lead is also responsible for leading and ensuring this cross laboratory coordination.

What practical applications might the work youíre doing have that would affect the average American?
One of the recent tools we developed for the EPA tests recreational water at beaches to determine what levels of fecal pollutants you might be exposed to if you were to swim that day. Or the information we provide may come from an air quality model we developed that tells what someone is being exposed to through the air on a given day Ė the levels of particulate material, ozone or toxic chemicals.

In what ways did the Chemistry Department prepare you for professional success?  
The chemistry program got to the heart of what I do every day. From it I learned to identify a problem, envision a solution, identify the research needs for that solution, develop a plan for the research, carry out the research and communicate/apply the results of the research. At UC I had every resource I needed to be successful. I had the best equipment and materials. I had the fundamental knowledge base in the library. I had excellent instruction. And the best part is that I had guidance and support. When I was at UC, its strength was the professors that always had time and were always willing to help.

Kevin Kubachka (PhD, í07)
Food and Drug Administration
Kubachka, an Athens, Ohio, native, is a chemist with the US Food and Drug Administration.

He performs forensic case work to support investigations, inspections and public safety regarding FDA regulated products. His concentration is on the analysis of FDA-regulated products for metals to help assess their health risk and the examination of carbon isotope ratios of various products to determine if they are authentic or adulterated.

What type of research are you working on and what do you hope to accomplish?
I am working on method development to determine concentrations of arsenic compounds in fruit juices and other food types. We eventually want to use this information to help establish limits for various arsenic compounds in several food types. Ultimately, we strive to ensure the safety of various foods and drugs consumed by the public.

How did your education in the Chemistry Department prepare you for your career?  
It gave me the analytical chemistry background and troubleshooting skills that I need to perform my daily job. I was very prepared right out of graduate school to start my job and perform it effectively.

What does your success say about the level of education provided and research opportunities available in A&S?
My professional accomplishments show that students who complete their education though UC's A&S can have the necessary skills to find a job in an area related to their field of study.

Cynthia Striley (BS, í89; PhD, í94)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Striley, a Cincinnati native, is a research chemist in the Biomonitoring and Health Assessment Branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She also holds the rank of captain and title of Scientist Officer in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS).

Her office primarily develops methods to assess worker exposure to occupational chemicals. She and her colleagues quantify a worker's exposure by testing blood, saliva, urine or exhaled breath, using chromatography and multiplexed immunoassay.  As a USPHS officer, Striley is involved in public health emergency responses and was deployed to Baton Rouge, La., to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. She also volunteers on the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials Unit.

What goals do you have for your current research and what practical applications might that research have?
We have had studies recently that focused on exposures to asphalt fumes, drugs of abuse, chemotherapy agents, pesticides and metals. Though our research, we hope to find exposures and then change work practices to eliminate or minimize these exposures. Our goal is to eliminate exposure-based negative health outcomes for the American worker. We are developing direct-reading methods to make biomonitoring expedient and inexpensive.

How have you applied what you learned in the Chemistry Department to your career?
My studies at UC prepared me well for my current position. The way a student works with an advisor, picks a topic and develops a thesis is nearly identical to what I do every day. I learned mentoring and laboratory management skills that I continue to draw upon. In addition, working as a teaching assistant and doing my proposal prepared me well for being a research project officer here at NIOSH.
Whatís next for you? Are there any interesting projects on the horizon?
We have been working on an initiative to expand on the development of direct-reading methods and meters. When thereís a situation involving worker exposure to occupational chemicals, many classical methods of analysis can take days to weeks to perform. We hope to shorten the time it takes to learn of an exposure and deal with it. We also hope these real-time or near real-time methods will be far less expensive to deploy in the workplace.

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