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Trainee Spotlight: Q&A with Fox Foley

How did your journey lead you to become interested in environmental health research, particularly focusing on EPFRs (Environmentally Persistent Free Radicals)?

Before starting work with my advisor, Dr. Sprunger, I had no clue what an EPFR was or that they even existed, but I’ve had an interest in environmental research since I was a little kid. I grew up wanting to save the polar bears and rainforests and never lost the passion for trying to make a positive difference in the world; when I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Sprunger on pollution research I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Can you share something that you wish more people knew about EPFRs and their impact on environmental health?

I wish that more people knew about EPFRs and other air pollutants in general. Talking to others about my research has made me realize how little is known by the public about air quality and how much of an influence it has on us humans and our environment.

What aspects of bridging physics with environmental health research do you find most intriguing or challenging?

The reason that I love physics is that it seeks to explain how everything physical works even at the smallest levels; it truly does tie into and explain a lot of phenomena in other sciences! Being able to apply what I know from physics to environmental health research can be difficult when my colleagues from biology or other fields speak different ‘languages’ but overcoming that challenge has been gratifying.

What aspects of your research do you find most rewarding or enjoyable?

Getting expected and repeatable results is any experimentalist’s dream, so I’d say that can be the most rewarding in the short term, especially after a bout of challenges impeding research. Even more rewarding and fulfilling, though, is knowing that my research will be used to find ways to help people and the environment.

As you progress in your PhD, what are your plans and aspirations for your career after completing your research?

I’d love to continue to work in research related to the environment and environmental health post-PhD. I am a materials scientist at heart and am currently looking at opportunities in renewable energy, whether that be exploring new materials for solar cells or air and water treatment. My greatest goal is to make any positive improvements or advancements in the world.

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