Shruti Parikh is a junior at UW, majoring in Environmental Studies and Environmental Sciences and Resource Management (ESRM), with a QSCI minor. She’s lived in Washington for the majority of her life and is passionate about good air quality.
She recently won a Mary Gates Research Scholarship for her research on using plants to purify air and reduce pollutants such as arsenic, a known carcinogen.
The increased concentration of arsenic in many areas has impacted human and ecosystem health. Phytoremediation is a cost-effective, eco-friendly technology that uses the natural ability of plants to remediate pollutants from contaminated soils. Shruti’s research uses endophytes, or beneficial bacteria that live inside of plants, to see if they can help improve the tolerance of their host plants to arsenic, thereby enhancing the process of phytoremediation.
Which environmental issues most concern you?
I think pollution has always been a really big environmental issue to me. As someone who has asthma, I consider myself to be a pretty good indicator of air quality and I think it’s really concerning when I visit places like Atlanta, my birthplace, and have trouble breathing because of the terrible air quality. I really got into the whole Bellingham coal terminal issue when I was in high school because I was concerned about coal dust and the effect it has on humans. It actually connected me to the research I’m currently working on at Sharon Doty’s lab.
What is your research focus?
Four years ago, as a junior in high school, I decided to focus on arsenic found in coal dust and seek a way to remediate the coal dust contaminated soil. Since there are no known local hyper-accumulators of arsenic, I decided to test whether the Western Sword Fern could be a possible candidate, (there are a few non-native ferns that are known to accumulate high amounts of arsenic in their fronds). This experience got me really interested in research and after learning there was similar research being done at the UW, I decided to apply to the Doty Lab.
The Doty Lab is unique because it takes plants and pairs them with endophytes, bacteria living inside of plants to create a “plant-microbe partnership” that allow the plants to survive stressful conditions such as soil contamination.
While working at Dr. Doty’s lab, my research interests have broadened to include microbiology, molecular biology, and soil sciences.
What does your Mary Gates scholarship entail? How did you find out about it?
The scholarship gives me $5,000 over the course of two quarters, as well as the opportunity to be a part of the Mary Gates Scholars community. I get to attend events such as the annual Gala and Spring Breakfast that allow me to connect with other scholars, and take part in other networking and career development opportunities.
I will be using the scholarship money to pay my tuition, which in the long run can help me save up for graduate school. I found about the scholarship through my Environmental Studies adviser, Ana, and one of my lab friends.
Shruti presented her research at the UW Undergraduate Research Symposium. If you too want to showcase your research, submit your application by February 13, 2017.
What are your career aspirations?
I want to get a Ph.D. I’m not sure in what exactly, but it will be related to environmental science. I love research, and I want to continue doing it. However, the reason I started majoring in Environmental Studies before ESRM is because I think the application of environmental research is really important. A lot of times, research is published but no one ever does anything with it, and my goal is to see that my research actually gets applied; whether that’s through starting my own business, or becoming a professor and licensing my products to businesses – I have yet to decide!