Research Labs

Below are descriptions of current open positions in ROUTES labs. To apply and to view the full job descriptions, search for ROUTES on NU Works.

Understanding How Environmental Mutagens Affect DNA Replication

Mentor: Dr. Mary Jo Ondrechen

Professor, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Northeastern University
Research Interests: Theoretical chemical biology/physics focusing on: understanding the fundamental basis for enzyme catalysis, functional genomics – prediction of the functional roles of gene products (proteins), modeling of enzyme-substrate interactions, drug discovery, and bioinformatics.

Project Description:

Certain environmental contaminants can cause modifications to DNA that result in mutations. The student working on this project will study on the molecular level the effects of DNA adducts caused by environmental contaminants upon the fidelity of DNA replication. Specifically, whether DNA polymerases are prone to copying errors, hence mutagenesis, at the site of DNA damage.

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This project involves modeling and computation. The student will develop models of undamaged DNA, and DNA with adducts, bound to the active site of the DNA polymerase, together with the four possible incoming nucleotides. The student will participate in ongoing research and will learn molecular modeling, molecular mechanics, and molecular docking techniques and will gain understanding of DNA replication and of environmental mutagenesis. Through collaborations, the student’s predictions will be tested in chemical biology experiments.

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Air Quality Monitoring with Sensor Networks in Chelsea, MA

Mentor: Dr. Matt Eckelman

Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northeastern University
Research Interests: Environmental impacts of metals production, use, emissions, and recovery; life cycle assessment of products and services; systems modeling of bioenergy and bio-based industrial chemicals; material and energy use in urban environments and civil infrastructure.

Mentor: Dr. Amy Mueller

Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northeastern University
Research Interests: Biogeochemistry of natural and engineered systems; in-situ sensors and instrumentation for high-resolution process characterization; remediation and sustainability in natural and built coastal environments; sensor-driven closed-loop controls for resource optimization in engineered systems; signal processing and machine learning, embedded systems, and sensor networks.

Project Description:
Monitoring urban air quality is challenging due to the high cost of instrumentation, the spatial variability of air quality across complex urban landscapes, and the temporal variability of sources that contribute to air pollution (e.g., traffic, idling vehicles, home heating oil use). This project will contribute to an ongoing initiative to enable use of lower cost sensors to achieve critical urban air quality monitoring goals.

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The ROUTES scholar will build skills and combine activities in each of the following areas: (1) managing sensors installed in the city, including understanding power/communication hardware and maintenance/upkeep processes, (2) using field instrumentation to collect “ground-truth” data for calibrating sensors, and (3) developing software modules to process data from sensors and instruments, identify patterns, and create plots.

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Electrochemical treatment of industrial wastewater

Mentor: Dr. Phil Larese-Casanova

Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northeastern University
Research Interests: Environmental chemistry and mineralogy; transformation and remediation of water pollutants; nanomaterial sorbents for water treatment

Project Description:
This project addresses the problems of dissolved organic and metallic pollutants present within an industrial wastewater source by testing the ability of electrochemical systems to degrade or remove these pollutants from the water. The electrochemical reactors will be stirred batch reactors or flow-through column reactors.

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The student will examine how different water chemistries of the wastewater will influence the removal of these pollutants and help design ways to improve reactor performance when performance is poorly affected. The student will gain knowledge on how to monitor reactor performance, how to measure dissolved pollutants and other water quality parameters, and how to adhere to quality controls. The student is expected to be comfortable within a chemical laboratory, to prepare solutions and reagents, to test new methods for quantifying dissolved pollutants, and to analyze samples taken from reactors. The student will also learn analytical chemical instrumentation including liquid chromatography and spectrophotometry.

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): Chemical regulation and policy, community activism, economic and social costs, and demographic correlates of contamination

Mentor: Dr. Phil Brown

Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences, Northeastern University; Director, Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute
Research Interests: Chemical policy, PFAS, disputes over environmental causation of illness, community response to toxic waste-induced disease, biomonitoring and household exposure to toxics, environmental health research ethics, and health social movements.

Project Description:
The PFAS Project Lab (pfasproject.com) is a lab group within the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI). The Lab includes 3 faculty members, 1 postdoc, 4 graduate students, and 4 undergraduates. Visit the PFAS Project website to learn more about current projects.

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Tasks that students have done include: Interview scientists, affected residents, government regulatory officials, manufacturers, retailers, and advocates on history of PFAS use, voluntary phase-outs, state and federal regulation, clean-up, and chemical substitution. Compile historical material and legal transcripts involving areas of PFAS contamination. Work on Contamination Site Database of contamination episodes, and help analyze data. Transcribe interviews, enter transcripts and other data into qualitative methods software, and conduct analysis. Assist in developing and maintaining website for international compilation of materials on PFAS. Maintain our widely-visited website. Coordinate monthly newsletter that incorporates material from a number of partner organizations. Develop information materials for health professionals to discuss PFAS contamination with patients and the public. We are particularly looking for involvement on analyzing state regulatory and other actions. 

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Investigating how water utilities will monitor lead in drinking water in schools and daycares

Mentor: Dr. Kelsey Pieper

Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northeastern University
Research Interests: Applied environmental chemistry; corrosion; drinking water quality, treatment, and infrastructure; post-disaster drinking water recovery; public health engineering.

Project Description:
With the new EPA Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) revisions, water utilities are now responsible for monitoring lead in schools and licensed childcare facilities. There are growing concerns about the ability of the proposed testing procedures to identify at-risk locations and lack of information about the implementation of remediation strategies.

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The student will review literature about school sampling efforts and analyze prior data in order to design and execute a sampling campaign that explores the limitation of the LCR revisions. At identified schools, the student will collect samples to examine the variability of lead levels of various drinking water taps and efficacy of flushing remediations. This ROUTES position will co-mentored by Kelsey Pieper at Northeastern University and Stephen Estes-Smargiassi at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA).

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Investigate the link between environmental exposures and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children born in Puerto Rico

Mentor: Dr. Emily Zimmerman

Associate Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northeastern University
Research Interests: Examining the link between early sucking/feeding behaviors and subsequent neurodevelopment through an array of objective, customized sensors and technologies. She studies the environmental, maternal, physiological, and genetic influences of these behaviors across patient populations and cultures. Further, Dr. Zimmerman is particularly interested in maternal exposures to chemical exposure during pregnancy and child development.

Project Description:

Puerto Rican children are exposed to an array of environmental exposures that place them at a heightened risk for neurodevelopmental delays. Our centers use a variety of standardized and non-standardized tests to examine the relation between environmental exposures and child health and development.

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This research opportunity will allow for a deeper dive into some of these relationships through literature reviews and data analyses to help answer some of the important research questions stemming from a variety of our NIH-funded projects. Experience with Microsoft word and excel is required.

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