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Dr. Dhar and Student Researchers Impress at GSA Conference

It has been a difficult two years for students due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but faculty at York College, CUNY have managed to keep their students engaged and succeeding in spite of it.

Dr. Ratan Dhar (Earth and Physical Sciences department), was one such professors, who was determined that teaching and learning and indeed, researching, must continue. Not only did he teach remotely and in-person as needed for research purposes, he took three of his Environmental Health Sciences students on the road to conduct field research in Queens parks as well as to present their findings at a Geological Society of America (GSA) conference in Portland, Oregon.

“These three students had participated in the Summer Research program [and] during the pandemic they had worked very hard for sample collection, on-site analysis and laboratory analysis,” Dr. Dhar explained. The students were from junior to senior as follows.

The students were, respectively, Hemwattie Rampersaud: Graduated in December 2021 (BS in Environmental Health Sciences)

Amin Ullah: to graduate in summer 2022.

And Kera Johnson, a junior.

According to Dr. Dhar, they conducted research during the summer and fall (June to September, 2021) supported by York Summer Research Program and NSF- ATE (National Science Foundation- Advanced Technological Education) internship program under his supervision. Here he describes each student and their work.

Hemwattie Rampersaud’s research results were presented to a Topical Session (T26): Environmental Geochemistry and Health, under the title, Seasonal Variation of Fecal Indicator Bacteria in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in Queens. The research was conducted on water quality of the lake, during the pandemic. The main objective of the study is to assess the physical, chemical, and biological parameters in the Fresh Meadow-Corona Park lake to determine the extent of anthropogenic activities and compare the seasonal variation of Fecal Indicator Bacteria (FIB) including Fecal Coliform, Total Coliform, E.Coli and Enterococci. The results were then compared with those obtained in the pre-pandemic period.

Amin Ullah:

The research results were presented to a Topical Session (T47): A Showcase of Undergraduate Research in Hydrogeology.

Title: Assessing the Levels of Water Contaminants Discharging to Jamaica Bay

This study was conducted to assess the efficacy of retention ponds in reducing contaminant mobilization in a rapidly growing urban environment in Jamaica, Queens. Two sites in Baisley Pond were identified as recharge and discharge points during a storm event. The distribution of contaminants, particularly bacteria and nutrients were studied in those two sites. No notable filtration were obtained from the preliminary results, further investigation is necessary to find the contaminant reduction. The pond works as retention of surface runoff to combat the street flooding in the South Jamaica area.

Kera Johnson:

The research results were presented to a Topical Session (T47): A Showcase of Undergraduate Research in Hydrogeology

Title: Assessing the Historical Water Quality Data of Jamaica Bay, New York

In this study we used harbor water quality data generated by NYC DEP (New York City Department of Environmental Protection) for Jamaica Bay. Five sample locations were selected for water quality monitoring. Different water quality components such as pH, temperature, salinity, electrical conductivity, dissolved oxygen, chemical nutrients such as phosphate and nitrate, as well as fecal indicator bacteria were analyzed, and the data was logged on an excel sheet and the results were presented in a graphical format. We also compared enterococci level with the different parameters for each site. The analysis of the data show that the site, located at the center of urban development, had the greater level of contaminant and also fecal indicator bacteria. This suggests that occurrence of chemical and biological contaminants in the bay may be primarily caused by unregulated storm water discharged into the Bay.

But it wasn’t just his students who presented, a dedicated scientist, Dr. Ratan Dhar also presented:

The research results were presented to a Topical Session (T26): Environmental Geochemistry and Health.

Title: Exploring villagers’ indigenous knowledge of water and soil management practices in selected communities of the village Carbuna of The Republic of Moldova.

The preliminary findings from a comprehensive study on water and soil of the village Carbuna located in the Ialoveni District of Moldova, were presented in a Topical Session. The research was conducted for two weeks in June-July 2019. The purpose of the study was to conduct a quick investigation on water and soil management practices by villagers of a small agricultural economy based remote village, Cabuna in Eastern Europe where York College Social Work Department has established a strong collaboration with local NGOs in Moldova. This collaborative initiative between Social Work, Environmental Health and Nursing was very effective in understanding the socio-environmental impact on rural people. Unfortunately, due to the on-going pandemic the study could not be continued. We are hoping to resume this collaboration study the groundwater and surface water management of the area, further.

Usually, GSA accommodates more than 10,000 researchers/scientists at the annual conference. GSA 2020 was completely online due to pandemic. However, GSA 2021 accommodated about 2000-2500 researchers across the globe while maintaining strict CDC regulations with social distancing and other restrictions. Students were very happy to have the opportunity to present their research in person at a prestigious conference like GSA. Their research were thoroughly reviewed and accepted for abstract publication with a digital object identifier (DOI) number. Travel expenses for the students were supported by my grant NSF-ATE (National Science Foundation - Advanced Technical Education)

In their own words, the three students explain their experience here:

Amin Ullah 

My Presentation in the Oregon Convention Center 

Last summer we had started water monitoring in one of the ponds in Queens, New York. My research was based on finding the contaminants levels discharging from Baisley Pond to the Jamaica Bay, to find whether Baisley Pond works as a retention point for contaminants? 

Our professor, Dr. Ratan Dhar, had planned that we should go to the Geological Society of America (GSA) to present our work. It was the first time I heard about the Geological Society of America, and I was little nervous because it was my first time to present prominent scholars. After doing the research and monitoring, the day came for us to fly to Portland, where the presentation was to take place. I had the presentation on 10th of October, at the Oregon Convention Center.  

The audience started to move around and observing the posters of the presenters in the hall. Some of the audience [members] stopped by my poster and asked questions about how my research was done, which I explained to them and the significance and the limitation of my research. Some of the audiences were very interested in my research and gave me feed-back.

On the next morning, I came into the event hall and met other researchers. One of the interesting posters I found was about finding the Carbonate Carbon Isotopic values in Shark teeth, which can give us better understanding of food web of ancient ecosystem. This convention was a great experience of my life. I was introduced for the first time, to such a prominent conference world, which helped me build my confidence and I saw the concerns of the people for our earth. 

Hemwattie Rampersaud 

Geological Society of America (GSA) Seminar Experience 

In the Spring Semester of 2021, I took a Water Pollution Biology class with Dr. Dhar, where I engaged in field research to test the physical, chemical, and biological parameters of Flushing Meadows/Corona Park lake water.  Our focus was to test the levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) in this lake water to see how the FIB levels may have changed during the pandemic due to lesser anthropogenic activities. I conducted this research along with Dr. Dhar and my peers during the pandemic following all COVID-19 guidelines. After some interesting findings, I decided to continue this research into the summer to analyze how the bacteria levels vary by seasons due to higher anthropogenic activities, warmer temperatures, and increased surface runoff by frequent rainfalls.  

At the beginning of the summer research, Dr. Dhar told us that we will be going to Portland, Oregon to present our research at the Geological Society of America (GSA) conference. I was very excited because my other peers who had experienced GSA before, told me how amazing of an experience it was for them; and so, I was happy to hear that I was getting the opportunity to do the same.  

As two of my peers were presenting their posters, I was walking around perusing other researchers’ posters. I visited a few posters of interest and interacted with the presenters. There were many interesting topics, and it was amazing to hear how passionate the presenters were about sharing their results. There were also different graduate schools where you could get brochures and ask questions firsthand. Prior to arriving to the Convention, I had signed up for 12 hours of volunteer work. On 11th October, I began my volunteer service at 6:00 am where I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with both domestic and international students from diverse academic backgrounds. There were students from various universities and colleges within the US and students from other countries such as Canada, Puerto Rico, India etc. It was amazing to share and engage with like-minded people. We shared information about our research, backgrounds, plans etc. In the nights, there were informal meet and greet in our hotel lobby where I got to again interact with professors and students. On the evening of October 12 there was also a seminar with different government agencies, where people, who were interested in working for them could ask questions and network with the representatives in attendance. 

At first, I was a little pessimistic about how little people care about our environment; however, after attending this seminar, I am hopeful because there are researchers out there who are doing their fair share to enlighten people and finding solutions about the problems that are facing our environment. There were many engaging research outcomes, however, one that especially stood out to me was the research on asbestos where PhD students tested the asbestos levels in the soil of their community and are working with their state and city officials to reduce the asbestos levels in the soil

I presented my research and it was a fun and educational experience as people were very interested in the research as it affected public health. A few people did research in the same area, and it was great to share the different methods we used for similar research. Overall, GSA conference attendance was truly a transformative experience and I believe that every student should at least have the opportunity to do so. I am truly grateful to all the people who supported me in attending this convention. 

My GSA Experience – Kera Johnson 

When I was first introduced to the Geological Society of America Conference, I was unsure as to what it entails but the thought of going to a new state fascinated me as well as the fact that I was going to be a part of a society that is bigger than who I am. In the summer I participated in research on assessment of the historical data of the Jamaica Bay, New York, focusing mainly on how the physical parameters affected the enterococci levels. After doing the extensive work and preparation, the day finally came and we ventured to Portland Oregon Convention site October 10, 2021, which was the same day of my presentation. When we arrived, I had to mount my poster for viewing before the event commenced. I was intrigued to present my research although I was nervous.

It was my first-time presenting research that I conducted with the guidance of my professors and fellow school mates in such a huge crowd. Students from all different states, colleges and universities were in attendance presenting their research as well. When the event started, I stood by my poster and the audience moved around to different posters to read and ask questions. When they got to my poster, they asked me questions about the different water parameters that I looked at, what measures have been put in place to lower the enterococci levels and to prevent contaminations. They also gave me feedback about my research.   

Overall, my experience at the conference was great and I appreciated the fact that I got the chance to be a part of this experience, which helped me to sharpen my public speaking skills. 

 Congratulations to Dr. Dhar, the student researchers and their entire department!

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