Studying the biogeochemistry of arsenic in wetland soils and rice paddies

Lena Abu-Ali smiling
  • Hometown: Gary, Indiana

Lena Abu-Ali

Ph.D. student Lena Abu-Ali recently won the Provost Diversity Fellowship for Spring 2022. The Provost Diversity Fellowship is a competitive one‐term dissertation completion fellowship designed to advance the Graduate School’s commitment to diversity, access, equity, justice, and inclusion. Lena works in the Ecological Engineering Research Lab, which is under the direction of Assistant Professor Matthew Reid. The Ecological Engineering Research Laboratory is focused on harnessing natural processes in the landscape to eliminate contaminants from water and soil, and ensure the quality of these resources for societal needs and ecosystem health.

What is your area of research? I study the biogeochemistry of arsenic in wetland soils and rice paddies, with a focus on both fundamental chemistry and implications for human bioavailability.

What inspired you to choose this field of study? Growing up in Gary near both the beautiful dunes of Lake Michigan and the pervasive pollution and resulting environmental justice issues from the steel industry motivated me strongly to study environmental engineering, to develop strategies to protect human and environmental health in hometowns like my own.

Lena Abu-Ali working in a fieldCan you tell us a story about a research site visit or expand upon your research site visits? My research site is in a working rice paddy in east-central Arkansas. Site visits involve waking up at the crack of dawn to get out into the field, dig holes to install sensors, take soil and pore water samples, and configure solar panels and data loggers for data collection during the growing season. You are fighting the relentless sun, bugs, and danger of cottonmouth snakes at all times, which keeps you on your toes!

What does a day in the life look like? My days are split between sample analysis using wet chemistry in the laboratory, writing, and data analysis.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship? I'm a big fan of hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. I play lots of Animal Crossing in my spare time. I have studied multiple concert band instruments, including clarinet, tenor saxophone, oboe, and guitar, so music is a big part of my life.

What's one thing about you that would surprise people? One of my biggest passions in life is Major League Baseball and I can't wait to visit all 30 stadiums and see the White Sox win another World Series one day.

What is your advice for grad students just starting their programs? Try and have a little bit of fun while you're in grad school - try to live these years of your life to the fullest despite the stress of academia.


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