PROTECT is excited to announce that two of our trainees, Luisa Feliciano and Skarlet Velasquez, have received Superfund Research Program (SRP) 2021 KC Donnelly Externship Awards. The KC Donnelly Award funds SRP trainees in translational/transdisciplinary research at other SRP centers or government/tribal agencies conducting environmental health research.

Luisa Feliciano is a PhD candidate at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, where she works with Dr. Ingrid Padilla on PROTECT Project 3 to model groundwater flow and contaminant transport in the northern karst region on the island. Karst systems are inherently complex, and gaining a complete understanding of spring response and subsurface properties in karst is challenging without big data analytics and machine learning algorithms. To that end, her KC Donnelly Externship with Major Sean Griffin at the US Army Corps of Engineers Geospatial Research Laboratorywill provide training on geospatial artificial intelligence and machine learning, which she will apply to her research to discover patterns in the data and construct predictive models of the fate and transport of contaminants in groundwater.

Skarlet Velasquez is a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia, where she works with PROTECT co-director Dr. José Cordero and investigates the relationship between exposure to flame retardant chemicals and adverse pregnancy outcomes in Puerto Rico. For her KC Donnelly Externship, she will work with Dr. Margaret Karagas at the Dartmouth College SRP Center, where she will use silicone wristbands to measure exposures to multiple pollutants in a birth cohort. These wristbands are a novel technique in measuring contaminant exposure that is less invasive or burdensome than blood or urine sample collection. This externship will provide Skarlet with an opportunity to continue her research on flame retardants and birth outcomes, as well as introducing new sampling and data analytics techniques that could also be applied to the PROTECT cohort.

Both externships are set to occur this fall, and will include a presentation on the research at the 2022 SRP Annual Meeting. The PROTECT Team looks forward to hearing more about the outcomes of the research projects and how these tools can be applied to PROTECT data in the future.

Congratulations Luisa and Skarlet!