It’s not often that students studying public affairs, English, and civil and environmental engineering present their research at the same meeting. Which is just one thing that will be unique about the June 4 “Past, Present, and Future” symposium hosted by the Center for Science and Engineering of the Exposome.

The campus community is invited to register for the event, which will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in 310 Kelly Hall. It will include presentations on flu transmission, indoor plumbing, the value of rhetoric in shaping public understanding of science, and a host of other interdisciplinary projects, all united by the center’s guiding concept of science and engineering as a public good.

Through that lens, the 3-year-old center tackles the complex, but increasingly urgent, topic of the “exposome” — the barrage of chemicals, microbes, and radiation we encounter in the environment as a matter of course. 

Many of those exposures pass largely unnoticed, but researchers are beginning to realize the outsized effect they have on our health.

Understanding the exposome and its influence is the founding mission of the center, which is led by researchers from the College of Engineering and supported by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

The symposium’s 12 presentations — most of them by students or postdoctoral researchers — will elaborate on the individual projects that comprise that larger effort.

The program will highlight two of the center's themes: a research focus on the indoor environment, where most of us spend 90 percent of our time, and a commitment to “citizen science” as a way to acquire robust data sets and engage the public directly in the scientific process.

“People are interested in what they’re being exposed to in their homes — what they’re breathing in, what they’re drinking,” said research scientist A.J. Prussin, the center’s associate director. 

The center is directed by University Distinguished Professor Marc Edwards. Joining Edwards as co-principal investigators are Linsey Marr, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of civil and environmental engineering; Amy Pruden, the W. Thomas Rice Professor of Engineering; and Peter Vikesland, the Nick Prillaman Professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Initially supported by startup funding from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, the center has grown into a robust research enterprise: its researchers have received a combined $9 million in funding in the past year and nearly $22 million since the center was founded in 2015. They’ve published 31 peer-reviewed manuscripts in the past year (79 since the center’s inception) and are working with more than 20 graduate and 10 undergraduate students on research projects that range from the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to dangerous deficiencies in public infrastructure in Appalachia.

The group hosted their first research symposium last year. That meeting led to fruitful new collaborations, and Prussin said they’re hoping for the same this year.

“The big outcome of the symposium last year was making new connections across campus that we never thought of before,” he said. “We hadn’t necessarily envisioned ourselves working with people in the English department or the School of Public and International Affairs, but those collaborations are a huge part of what sets our center apart and enables us to make progress on these really challenging problems .”

“You can’t be an expert in everything,” he pointed out. “You really need to leverage your expertise with others, and there’s a lot of good people across campus.”

The symposium is free to attend, and lunch will be provided; register by May 28. 

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