Nancy Tseng received her B.S. in Environmental Science in 2010. She is currently enrolled in a dual Master's and doctoral degree program here at UCLA, with the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Describe your experience as an Institute of the Environment and Sustainability student.
I heard about the start of the Environmental Science Major after taking a General Education Cluster Course focusing on this topic. I felt that the issues discussed in that class, including sustainability and air and water pollution, were very relevant to the present and future, and I was motivated to contribute to this field. Since part of this degree program requires you to concentrate on a specific topic, I chose an Environmental Health Minor. This exposed me to challenging but rewarding, graduate level classes, which inspired me to participate in research on the toxicological effects of pollutants. I was able to obtain a volunteer position at a lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) through one of the speakers in the Environmental Science Seminar Series. This position turned out to be my final research project at the IoES and motivated me to conduct even more research.
Discuss your current academic endeavor. Why did you choose this particular field to focus on?
After finishing my project at UCSB, I emailed many professors at UCLA whose research focused on removing toxic compounds from the environment. Professor Shaily Mahendra allowed me to work in her lab during my fourth year and took me on as a graduate student. My current project deals with determining whether naturally found microorganisms, such as bacteria, can degrade perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).
PFCs are human-made compounds produced since the late 1940s and are used in a variety of products from lubricants, non-stick coatings, aqueous fire-fighting foams, and electronics. Since PFCs are highly stable in the environment, they have been found globally, even in areas that do not produce them, including the deep ocean, the Arctic, and Canada. Toxicological tests have shown that PFCs are carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxins, and endocrine disrupters. It is critical that an effective and feasible method is developed to remove these compounds from the environment and limit human exposure. Microbial degradation may be the method to remove PFCs.
How is your present path related to health, the environment, and sustainability?
My present path aims to remove toxic compounds from the environment and to reduce human exposure. This will improve the environment and human health.