Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Davidson Fellow profile: Laurie Rumker

We're still highlighting some of the 2010 Davidson Fellows! Today's interview is with Laurie Rumker, a student at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland. Her science project dealt with the treatment of river contaminants. You can read more about it here.

Gifted Exchange: How did you come up with your topic?

Rumker: I grew up outside of Eugene, Oregon, an environmentally-savvy city, within a nature-loving family. Our regular camping trips, hikes, forest bike rides and other outdoor activities taught me to recognize the resources that nature offers and instilled in me a desire to protect, restore and preserve them. I imagine my particular affinity for water and water systems came from living on the banks of the McKenzie River, which I frequently skipped stones over and pondered the world alongside. As a delegate from my school to an International Collaboration Project focused on wetlands conservation in the summer of 2006, I joined students from LA and Australia to learn about the complex and fragile ecosystems that water bodies support. All of these experiences influenced my selection of a research topic for this project, in addition to my experience with microorganisms and biodegradation in earlier independent research projects. Because of my concern for our environment and affinity for water systems, I began reviewing methods to confront contamination in water systems. I became interested in organoclay because of its use on the Willamette River in my hometown of Portland. As I looked further into the chemical mechanism organoclay utilizes to contain pollutants, I began to see a hole in the experimental research conducted on organoclay prior to its implementation: the possibility for surfactant biodegradation.

GE: As you were doing your project, were there any skills or things you'd learned earlier that turned out to be important?

Rumker: Organizational, trouble-shooting, creative and communication abilities are, I believe, the most important aspects of good researchers. I am continually striving to improve myself in those areas. Thankfully, those are all skills that one can learn and work on in many activities beyond research: in team sports, in art and music and even in daily conversation and negotiation with others.

GE: What was the most fun part of your project?

Rumker: My favorite part of the project was sharing it: telling others about my project premise, results and implications in formal research presentations at research competitions like ISEF and at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality annual meeting for the specific Superfund clean-up site that inspired my work and in informal conversations with interested non-science individuals and my young researching peers. It is through presenting my work that I really see its applications and advancement of scientific knowledge coming to fruition.

GE: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Rumker: My current long-range goal is to explore and improve the human condition. I want to pursue a life of scientific investigation, and in 20 years could be working on solutions for problems of human health, disheartening living conditions, our changing global climate or resource distribution to ‘3rd world’ countries. These studies would yield practical discoveries and engineered solutions, but also help us to understand our roles as humans on the earth and in the greater system of the universe by contributing scientific knowledge. I see myself in a cross-disciplinary field, utilizing global collaboration to address pressing societal problems.

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