Are the metals causing adverse effects to the environment? In the ecological risk assessment of metals in lake sediment, you can choose several types of methods: chemistry, modeling, evaluating local biota or conducting laboratory toxicity tests. How many methods are enough to say for sure?
In our recent paper, authored by Krista et al., we faced this problem. We studied the Finnish lakes under the influence of metal mining and looked at the situation from several different views. In our earlier study, we started with analyzing metal concentrations – high in sediments, moderate in water. We analyzed the water and sediment chemistry – soft waters, high DOC, high seasonal variation in O2. Based on the chemistry and environmental quality guidelines, there seemed to be increased risk in those four study lakes.
In this current study, we included toxicity tests (L. variegatus, C. riparius, V. fischeri, L. stagnalis) to the picture, together with analysis of macroinvertebrate community structures and metal bioavailability & bioaccumulation studies. Bioavailability was studied with passive sampling (diffusive gradients in thin films) and bioaccumulation by collecting and analyzing body residues in chironomus larvae from the field.
And the results?
Chemistry and benthic organism community structure analyses showed risks in the most-polluted half of the studied lakes. Clear toxicity was seen some of the tests, but we assume low pH to be the reason of that in most of the cases. Metal body residues were not high enough to induce adverse effects and the bioavailability was not connected to observed toxicities.
What did we learn?
Acidic sediments with high sulfide concentrations are tricky, when conducting toxicity studies. There were a bunch of adverse effects observed, but majority of them could be explained by the low pH (simplified: metals + sulfides + oxide -> hydrochloric acid -> drastically decreasing pH)
Different methods may lead to totally different results. Recommendation: Use several test methods to ensure the reliability of your results. Traditional sediment triad approach includes chemistry, toxicity and benthic organism structure. Since metal speciation and bioavailability are important aspects in toxicity, studies of them should be included.
Know your environment. It is easier to evaluate the situation, when you have all the information. One day, we will have enough data to build models for those parts of ecological risk assessment that are still missing. Then, all this knowledge can be transferred to administration and routine environmental monitoring.
Text by Kristiina Väänänen, picture by Jenny Makkonen
Learn more. You can learn new research methods, use new instruments and find a whole new way of doing research.
Boost your career. International research period will look good on your CV. At least in Finland, your research career path will be a bumpy one, id you do not have enough international experience.
Get money for your research. Since it is not so easy to go abroad, there are fewer people after the money. Your chances of getting money are better!
Networks, networks! You have a great opportunity to meet other researchers. It could lead to new, co-organized projects in the future.
Superb transferable skills. What an opportunity to improve social skills, adaptivity, coordination skills, and so on.
Language skills. If you are going to a country, where your native language is not widely spoken, you have a wonderful chance to improve your language skills. For us Finns, this part is easy, since there are no other countries where our language is spoken.
This topic was inspired by the current status of our research group. Our post doc researcher Krista just started her 6-month research period in Nanjing University, China. Her work will include environmental chemistry research in one of the top universities in China. The project is funded by Outi Savonlahti fund, International Institute for Environmental Studies, and Nanjing University.
Joensuu has been hosting the annual international science festival SciFest® already since 2007, bringing together thousands of school kids, high school students, and teachers to discover new experiences and learn about science, technology and the environment. SciFest takes place every spring and is free and open to everyone. This year was a very special year, since for the first time in the history of SciFest, also early childhood education, Pilke Päiväkodit, was represented as an organizer of a workshop.
In the neighborhood of Rantakylä, Joensuu, we have a science-oriented day care centre Pilke Loiste. The day care centre has been operating since August 2017, and has been an excellent addition to the educational diversity of Joensuu. The day care centre Pilke Loiste has initiated co-operation with the Science Park of Joensuu,KideScience and their superb teacher Niko Kyllönen, as well as Luma-keskus and some researchers at UEF. They even participated the Epic Challenge project earlier this year with great success and had a chance to meet astronaut Dr. Charles Camarda.
But what does this have to do with our Ecotox group, or this blog? Well, our post-doc researcher Kaisa obviously signed up her two children into Pilke Loiste already months before it was officially opened, and all this has been a huge success in terms of excellent early childhood education AND education in science. As a mother of two, and as a researcher, Kaisa has been in close co-operation with the day care centre since its early days, and SciFest did not really bring an exception to this either.
We started to the plan the workshop already months before the actual event. The idea was to combine science with arts in some way, as this was the specific theme of SciFest this year. We joined our forces with a music-oriented day care centre Pilke Hepokatti , located in the neighborhood of Noljakka, Joensuu. Since the target group of the workshop were children between 5-8 years, we wanted to bring some simple scientific experiments into the workshop.
The first experiment was to fill a balloon without blowing – using only vinegar and sodium bicarbonate, in order to make the children understand reactions between chemicals. Another experiment was about surface tension – how many water drops could a coin tolerate on its top before sinking from the water surface? Kaisa then came along with a third task to the workshop – creating a food chain/web together with the children, using special educational cards from WWF, meant for learning biological interactions between organisms. Additionally, on the first day of the festival the kids could also create their own music using iPads lead by the head of music-oriented day care centre Pilke Hepokatti.
To give a better example of the biological diversity of the Finnish lakes and rivers, Kaisa brought some live organisms (water fleas, Oligochaete worms and Chironomids in real water/sediment) from our culture room to present to the kids. Surprisingly, most of the children had no clue about what a water flea was, or that there exists life also at the bottom sediments of our lakes and rivers. This definitely was a nice opportunity to introduce our aquatic research of UEF EnvBio and Ecotox to visitors of the workshop. We held the workshop during two days, from 9-12 both days, and approximately 60 visitors participated the workshop each day, added with some international groups from Iran and Germany, that were very interested in our workshop and the educational concept of Pilke Loiste in general. The feedback about our workshop was very positive overall.
I have been permitted to report now, that the next year 2019 Pilke Loiste will take part in SciFest again as a workshop organizer, and Pilke Loiste has also been invited to join the strategy group of SciFest, to make the event even better in the coming years. This definitely was a huge success, and an excellent opportunity to bring science-oriented education some publicity.
Quick facts about SciFest 2018: More than 9000 participants, over 30 countries, and 70+ workshops. We will meet again next year in April 25-27, 2019!!
Text and photos: Kaisa Figueiredo
Due to restrictions in rights of publishing photos of other children, mostly Kaisa’s own kids appear in this blog post (with the kind permission of their mother).
You got your PhD diploma in your hand, but not a job. What then? As promised in our previous blog post, we’ll talk about how to find a job after getting your PhD.
If your dream career is within academia:
Write a research plan and apply funding for your own postdoc project. There are several foundations and organizations giving out money for post docs. If you include an international research period to your application, your chances of getting the grant are better. Check the application deadlines!
Apply for open postdoc positions (in Finland and abroad). Check www.mol.fi, open positions in LinkedIn and Twitter, plus open positions in the universities’ web sites.
Contact your networks to ask, if they have anything available: Ask your supervisors and cooperation partners, let the people in social media know that you are looking for a job.
Network! If none of the previous options worked for you, widen your horizon. Go to courses, conferences and seminars. Do voluntary work in your field-related organizations. Join a mentoring program. Learn new and get to know new people. Don’t be shy, go and talk to people. Tell them who you are and that you are looking for a place to do your postdoc.
Apply for open positions and send open applications to local government, central government and third sector.
Look for the possibilities in the private sector. What kind of companies hire doctors from your field? Sell your expertise!
Are there suitable vacancies abroad?
Participate all kinds of job-seeking events and “improve your CV/job interview skills” – clinics. Join a mentoring program.
Learn, how to sell your expertise to a company. They are not interested on your publication list or diploma – they are interested in what you have learned during your PhD studies and how can you apply the knowledge to practice.
What happened to me once I got my diploma?
I have always wanted to be somewhere in the middle – between the research, administration and private sector. Few months before I got my PhD diploma, I started job-hunting. I polished my CV and elevator pitch with my mentor, participated in an international job-hunting event (thanks SETAC Europe), sent five applications to government jobs, applied for one postdoc position and for two administration jobs in university, wrote a research plan (with international mobility) and applied money from five foundations. What was the result? Two job interviews, one job and one 6-month research grant.
Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures Pixabay (cc0)
Today, Kristiina received a mobility grant from Outi Savonlahti fund (Joensuu University Foundation) for initiating her Post doc project with the focus on metal bioavailability, toxicity and ecotoxicity. The mobility period shall be in Nanjing University, China.
Congratulations for everyone! And many thanks for all our collaborators for your help with writing grant proposals.
Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures by Kukka Pakarinen and Varpu Heiskanen.
Our PhD students Kaisa and Krista have been working extra hard within the past few months. There were many exciting moments with writing the dissertations and planning for the public examinations. In Finland, the dissertation is first sent to two pre-examiners. They shall give recommendations (is the thesis ready for publication or not) and comments for the final improvements. Then, it is time for final polishing and language editing. Finally, we get the book printed and get ready for the public examination and the evening party, Karonkka.
It was a great moment to finally get the book in your hands. Krista’s can be found in here (Adverse effects of metal mining on boreal lakes:metal bioavailability and ecological risk assessment) and Kaisa’s in here (Bioaccumulation and trophic transfer of polychlorinated biphenyls in boreal lake ecosystems:
predicting concentrations with models and passive samplers).
The most exciting moment was just before entering to the lecture hall, Kaisa is here with her opponent Dr. Kari Lehtonen and Custos Dr. Jarkko Akkanen
The public examination lasts usually from two to three hours and it is a combination of interesting discussions and tough questions.
Finally, everything is over and it is time to celebrate. Krista served some sparkling wine and snacks after the examination to celebrate the occasion.
Congratulations to Kaisa, who already obtained her doctoral diploma! Krista’s diploma is still on the way, in the wheels of bureaucracy.
Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures from various sources (published with the kind permission of the photographers).
In August last year we wrote a blog post about the 2nd IIES work-shop that took place in Kuopio, Finland. To refresh your memory, you can click yourself to the post HERE.
This year was the 3rd year that this kind of a conference is held, and the location changed from chilly Kuopio in Finland to super-hot Shanghai in China. Yes, truly overheated…. during the conference week, we experienced the hottest day in Shanghai in its recorded history, which is 145 years.
The conference was held at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which everyone knows for its Shanghai list of top universities in the world. SJTU is the university that originally compiled and issued the list in 2003, which is not known as renowned Academic Ranking of World Universities, ARWU, being among the most prestigious ones globally. More than 1,200 universities from around the world are evaluated in ARWU ranking. The criteria include, among other things, Nobel and Fields prizes, articles published in Nature and Science, and citations. In the latest 2017 ARWU the University of Helsinki was ranked 56th, being the leader among the Finnish universities. The University of Eastern Finland (UEF) maintained its position and was ranked among the leading 301–400 universities in the world, thus being ranked once again as the second best Finnish university. Aalto University, the University of Oulu and the University of Turku were ranked in the rank range 401–500. Congratulations! Like in the previous years, the top of Shanghai Ranking comprises Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Cambridge, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. Here is more information about The Shanghai Ranking.
Okay, back to the IIES annual workshop. This year the 3rd Annual IIES Science and Policy Workshop was held simultaneously with International Conference on Low Carbon Development—Responding Post-Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Energy Transmission and Innovation which was also being sponsored by the IIES, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University with the GlobalTech Alliance. The two meetings were held simultaneously and offered participants the opportunity to meet colleagues from a wider range of institutions and to participate in both meetings. The participants came from Asia (mostly China, naturally), Europe and North America. There were sessions on atmospheric pollution – health Interactions, collaborative projects – ongoing or prospective, green technology, low carbon economies – technology and policy, soil resources – contamination and remediation, water resources – contamination and remediation. The workshop lasted four days and consisted of interesting presentations, fruitful discussions, conference dinners and informal get-togethers. IIES welcomes everyone to join the workshop next year – although the location remains unknown yet. You can read more about IIES.
The Finnish delegation representing UEF this year at the workshop included four PhD students and three senior researchers complemented with two professors. Two researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) added their forces to the Finnish delegation. Our ecotox group sent two final stage PhD students, Kristiina and Kaisa, to the venue with great success! They both had interesting oral presentation regarding their own research areas: Kristiina about metals in environments, and Kaisa about PCBs in aquatic food webs. Both of them had obviously learned the lesson (HERE ) and managed to speak and discuss their topics and co-operate with others with great success. IIES is now starting a post-doc program together with Nanjing University, and who knows, maybe this would be a great possibility in the future also for our soon-to-be PhDs at ecotox research group!
Activated carbon is a sorbent with the capability of strongly binding pretty much any organic substance to its surface (a process called adsorption). Since a large share of pollution in aquatic ecosystems concerns such organic substances (for example PCB’s), it would hence be a suitable sorbent to remediate them. Once a pollutant is adsorbed to the activated carbon, it is bound so strong that it is no longer available to organisms. This includes even the case where they eat the activated carbon particles “coated” with the pollutant. The organisms would just pass it through their digestive system, pooping it out unaltered. So, long story short, the idea is to render pollutants harmless to the environment, rather than having to remove them (which additionally leaves the question where to put the removed pollutant).
Unfortunately it has been shown that activated carbon itself can actually be quite harmful to certain animals. Therefore, it is necessary to not focus solely on developing these novel remediation methods to be as effective as possible, but to ensure that they are also safe to apply in the environment. After all, what does it help us if we treat the pollution in a place, but at the same time wreck its ecosystem?
In the paper this post is based on, we mainly examined several different methods of applying activated carbon to polluted sediments (which is where the major share of pollutants in aquatic ecosystems are). You basically have two general options: the more laborious one of mixing the sorbent into the sediment actively, or the more “crude” way of thin layer capping. In the latter method you just cover the polluted sediment with the activated carbon (see picture 1). In the field that would mean all you need to do is to take a shovel and spread the carbon. So, while we did know that thin layer capping would be the easier method to execute, what we aimed to find out in our tests was how it compares in matters of effectiveness and safety.
We simulated the two application methods in the laboratory in test vessels containing sediment from a PCB-polluted site (Lake Kernaalanjärvi, southern Finland). As a test organism we used Lumbriculus variegatus, small worms that burrow through the sediment. The amount of PCB’s that the worms take up from the test sediments told us how well the different treatments work for remediation, while their biological responses (things like their change in body mass) were used as parameters to measure the adverse effects of the sorbent material itself.
The major results published in this paper were both promising and worrying at the same time (picture 2). We found out that both methods are effective in general. Worms living in sediment under a thin layer cap took up ~50% less PCB’s from the sediment than from the untreated, “raw” sediment. When the activated carbon was mixed into the sediment, the uptake of PCB’s was prevented almost completely. So, while thin layer capping is a method that is a lot easier to use (and hence cheaper), it is not quite as effective as mixing the sorbent into the sediment. Nevertheless, one has to also keep in mind, that animals dwelling in the sediment (and the thin layer cap) can mix the activated carbon with the underlying sediment. This process is called bioturbation and it was actually even visible in our laboratory test vessels (picture 1). It’s just a lot slower than mixing sediment and sorbent right away upon application. In addition, mixing via bioturbation of course requires animals to stay on the treated site and not to flee the site in panic when the activated carbon is applied.
And that’s exactly where our more worrying results come in: the adverse effects of the sorbent itself. With both application methods it became quite apparent that the worms did not really like our miniature-scale remediation works. They lost their appetite almost completely, stopped feeding and hence lost a lot of weight. While that may sound like a desirable achievement to some humans, for our worms that could be a serious issue.
A possible explanation for this sudden loss in appetite was found on electron microscope images that we took (picture 3). It looked like the activated carbon had quite some detrimental effect to the worms’ gut walls. Their microvilli, which are responsible for nutrient absorption from the gut content, were damaged severely in most worms exposed to sediment treated with the sorbent – no matter with what application method. The exact mechanism on how activated carbon causes this kind of damage remain obscure; one suggestion for example is mechanical abrasion (the carbon particles are quite sharp), but also the strong sorption capacity of the material might be involved.
One interesting thing we saw was that thin layer capping with activated carbon can have quite a devastating effect on Lumbriculus variegatus. This is not too surprising, since the organisms are exposed to a high dose of pure activated carbon at the sediment-water interface. However, when we mixed the activated carbon with clay before applying (thus creating a thin layer cap that resembles natural sediment that is enriched with the sorbent), the adverse effects were a lot less severe. This doesn’t mean there were no more adverse effects, but rather that they were at a comparable level to our other tested application method of mixing the activated carbon into the sediment.
From the results seen in this study we were able to draw some conclusions and implications for future field applications. To sum up, both methods are effective. What the thin layer capping method lacks in immediate effectiveness, it makes up for with its easier application and lower costs. When it comes to the adverse effects, we showed that neither one of the methods has a significant advantage over the other – if certain precautions, like avoiding to apply pure activated carbon, are made. So when deciding on a method, the important factors are mostly the available budget and equipment. Thin layer capping is a better option for sediment remediation in cases where special equipment required for other methods cannot be brought in easily (remote areas) or simply in cases where funds are limited. However, before deciding whether or not to utilize activated carbon in general (and big scale), we will have to make sure that its own adverse effects to the environment are not worse than the pollution effects!
Lastly – if you check our blog post on the first field trial of activated carbon based sediment remediation in Finland, you will probably spot some of these implications already “in action”!
Publishing scientific articles is an important part of researcher’s life. The process is full of ups and downs, especially for a young researcher. Planning and writing the manuscript is another story, but there is lot to expect after you think you have finished your manuscript.
The final polishing takes a surprisingly long time. Is everything according to the journal’s requirements? Fonts, figures, colors, spacing? Do you need separate files for everything or do you build a single file including figures? What kind of reference formatting is required? For me, this is the happy phase. I feel that my hard work pays off and I am actually finishing a part of my work. I can’t wait to get that manuscript for the reviewers!
Submitting the manuscript
With my first manuscript, this was the phase where I started to have doubts. You need a cover letter for the editor. What on earth am I supposed to write in there? And how do I find the most suitable referees? So many forms to fill and the figures do not show as I planned. Can I be sure that everything is ready to be submitted? Did I make all the last corrections to the text after the proofreading? Since I am not a native English speaker, there is a bit more stress in that part.
Relieved to get the manuscript out of your hand. Expectations are high and the process seems to take way too much time. Unless you get a quick response from editor saying that your manuscript doesn’t fit to the scope of the journal, or that they have recently published a similar paper. Then it’s just waiting. When I finally get the response, my feelings go up and down. Well, of course, if it’s not a blunt rejection. Major of minor changes – Yay, there is light at the end of this tunnel! On the other hand, the comments from the reviewers prove that there is still a lot of work to be done before the article is published.
In the end, you will have the paper in your hand, with your name on it and everything. Should I send it to my family to read (didn’t, I guess they wouldn’t appreciate it that much). Maybe I could bring some sparkling wine or a cake to colleagues? Part of my PhD thesis is now completed and it’s time to move on to the next part!
Text by Kristiina Väänänen, photo by Kaisa Figueiredo
This fall we have two lab trainees, Risto and Päivi, working in our group. They are studying in North Karelia Adult Education Centre to become laboratory technicians. The education includes both lessons in the college and practical training in work places. Students have to pass altogether six working exams; in laboratory field this means exams in basic lab work, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and bioanalytics, and two optional exams among own interests and possibilities in workplace. Our lab offers training in basic lab work, analytical and environmental chemistry, and biotechnical applications as well.
During their training period, students are working as a part of our group doing everyday lab works learning new methods and deepen their occupational skills. On the other side, they bring new sights and ideas enriching the workplace. Another benefit is that supervising forces you to think your work thoroughly: how and why different stages in the work are done. It is observing your own manages by another’s eyes. In the best case, interaction with students produce new and practical methods. I hope that those moments are great for students, too.
An important goal for students is to pass work exams during the practical training. Thus, we need to plan “work-packages” for chosen exams. This is a bit difficult part, because many criteria set by the college must be fulfilled for each exam, and the work must be included in the everyday lab work at the same time. In the best situation in exam, students just do their daily work under appraisers’ observing, and then their performance is evaluated.
In the exam, there are three appraisers representing both college and workplace. They observe student’s work and ask questions, and finally have a meeting to decide the grade; exciting and interesting event overall.
We have already organized Risto’s exams. Everything went great! Let pictures tell more: