Awarding a scientific mind

Lindsay Blackstock wants to obtain her doctorate and secure a dream job of teaching at Thompson Rivers University

Lindsay Blackstock always liked science.

She would spend her summers at the Eureka camps at Thompson Rivers University.

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During her school years, whether in elementary at Arthur Hatton or Beattie or at Sa-Hali secondary, she would be busy creating projects to enter in annual science fairs.

Back then, it’s fair to say while she had drive and determination, she never envisioned how successful her educational path would be, one that recently saw her receive a $15,000 award from the Philanthropic Educational Organization Sisterhood, an international organization that promotes achievements by women.

The award joins a list of another 22 scholarships and awards Blackstock has received in the past five years, including a $63,000 grant for a three-year period from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research council.

That doesn’t include four more awards Blackstock was offered last year, but declined to accept.

Then there’s the project last year that led to more than 200 interviews with media from around the world, all wanting to talk to about peeing in swimming pools.

Blackstock, PhD student in the division of analytical and environmental toxicology at the University of Alberta, laughed as she recounted how the work went viral.

It involved using artificial sweeteners — acesulfame potassium — to identify the presence of urine in a test sample of 29 pools.

What she found was that at two pools in particular, swimmers left 75 litres of pee in the larger one and 30 litres of urine in the smaller one.

It matters because urine has ingredients that can react to pool disinfectants and cause eye and lung irritations. Prolonged exposure has been linked to asthma in professional swimmers and pool workers.

It was the first time anyone had done that kind of study, Blackstock said, and her story was covered by the likes of the BBC, Global TV, the New York Times, the Guardian and the Toronto Star.

She is now studying drinking water and, in particular, byproducts created by the disinfectants used to treat it.

She is looking to identify compounds in drinking water that can act as precursors to disinfection byproducts, noting long-term exposure to disinfection byproducts have been linked with an increased risk in developing bladder cancer.

Blackstock said she should complete all steps to obtain her doctorate by 2020, after which she is hoping she can return to TRU to teach.

“That would be my dream job,” she said, noting it’s not always easy to find a tenure-track position at a university. Second choice would be University of the Fraser Valley or another smaller post-secondary institute.

“But who knows what will come along?” she said. “I’ll have to wait and see.”


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