Water for Food

Jonathan Ali

University of Nebraska Medical Center graduate student Jonathan Ali shows a fathead minnow.

University of Nebraska Medical Center graduate student Jonathan Ali with a fathead minnow in the aquatic toxicology lab.

“I’m developing myself with scientific skills but there’s something to be said about time and people management that I’m getting from this experience. That’s really been worth it.” 

He slices fathead minnows, connects citizens to science, and teaches high school students how to perform their own water quality tests. The University of Nebraska Medical Center toxicology PhD student can even shake up a cocktail of environmentally realistic pesticides for adult and larval minnows, testing the chemicals’ effect on their hormones and development.  On top of all this, Ali works with DWFI Faculty Fellow Alan Kolok and the student-driven Nebraska Watershed Network (NWN) to promote water quality awareness through citizen science.

In August 2014, the Water for Food Institute awarded its inaugural round of student support grants to faculty fellows. The grants provide stipends to students like Ali who are working on projects that contribute to a more water and food secure world. For Ali, who will graduate in 2017, this means deepening our understanding of environmental risks. “You can’t put a cost on environmental services and health, so I look at things from a risk perspective. What are the current agricultural practices and what risk do they put into the environment?” He also visits local high schools to demonstrate how students can conduct water quality tests without elaborate gizmos in their own backyards. “Working with the NWN, I have the advantage of finding ways to bring citizen science in as a unique tool in exploring environmental toxicology.”

Of course, to balance scientifically rigorous research with people management requires tremendous focus. Ali says Kolok’s mentorship has given him confidence to do both. “He’s taught me if it’s good science, than it’s worth pursuing. He has let me shoulder a lot more responsibilities than I was expecting in a PhD program.”

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