I was flipping through Canadian Geographic’s “Protecting our water” issue and I came across a very interesting article about 2011’s environmental scientist of the year. Monique Dube has an infectious passion that keeps her bound to Canadian waters, conducting research and running experiments to answer some really critical questions about the health of our country’s H20.
But there’s a huge twist: she doesn’t spend all her time in the lab. In fact, her feet are pretty much in the water all day; “a scientist immersed in her subject” quotes the article.
Dube is a Canadian Research Chair in the new field of Aquatic Ecosystem Health Diagnosis. This new field is really paving a new direction for environmental research because scientists are beginning to take the pulse of the whole ecosystem—meaning that they are starting to study the combined effects of several impacts over large scales, rather than studying pollutants individually.
As a world leader in this field, Dube is taking ambitious steps to be able to understand our water systems more thoroughly and in more detail. She has a strong desire to push the intellectual frontier to solve real-world problems, a strong believer that “science is made up of pillar thinkers and integrative thinkers. Pillar thinkers work toward building the foundations of scientific knowledge, one theoretical brick at a time; these are your textbook myopic scientists. By contrast, integrative scientists prefer the big picture. They want to solve practical problems in the messy real world.” Although we need both, it is quite obvious which one Dube strives for.
For example, industrial pollution (especially endocrine disrupting compounds) can have dangerous impacts on aquatic life. I know this first-hand because I completed my undergraduate thesis in this field. It is very scary to look at consequences of such compounds entering the waterways, leading to intersex gonands and oocyte development in genetically male fish.
Dube also studies such effects, but she has a desire to understand this issue from the perspective of the solution, not the problem. She proposes to do this by understanding where the chemicals are coming from, studying the industrial processes, and working in parallel with engineers to find a solution.
Her effort to combine the fields of biology and engineering has won her a Synergy award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. She says that she really enjoys these partnership programs because she knows that her work leaves a positive footprint within the community.
To study rivers on location, she has even designed a trailer which houses her aquatic science lab. It even has intake lines that pick up water for on-board experiments.
By gathering historical data and generating new information, she is able to answer big-picture questions, which is (debatably) the goal of science.
She says that “we don’t need any more science gathering dust on shelves. I want to do science on water that benefits as many people as possible”.
So there you have it: a real world explorer for real world problems. It’s great to know that the boat is being rocked to pave a way for better thinkers, better learners, and better solutions.