Dr. Nancy Kinner, an environmental engineering professor at UNH, spoke to the School last Tuesday night. Dr. Kinner, whose main areas of research interest are bioremediation of contaminated subsurface environments, is the UNH Co-Director of the Coastal Response Research Center.
Before speaking to the entire School, she had dinner with the AP Environmental Science students (below), to address some of their questions individually.
She started her presentation in the Recital Hall by stating: “I love what I do. I feel like I can make a difference. I get to transform research results into practice ” She then described her own path into science; the turning point for her was her junior year in college, when she was at a Cornell lab at the Isles of Shoals, and found “there were fun things to learn. I thought it was exciting to study Marine Science.” Despite some initial doubt in her ability to enter into the field, she did so at the insistence of one of her professors, who told her “You can do it if you want to.” This launched her into obtaining both an M.S. and Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of New Hampshire.
Dr. Kinner dedicated a portion of her presentation to describing how she personally assisted in the clean-up of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. This touched on the role that politics play in responses to natural disasters. She gave the example of how the decisions we make which animals to protect and try to rescue during these disasters depends on several political factors. There is often a big trade-off in choosing to act in this way, she explained; for the species you do decide to save, many others may suffer significantly. “You are the generation that can help change that,” she told the students. “Don’t let politics dictate how we respond to disasters.”
Dr. Kinner also noted the importance of building up our understanding of scientific terms, as we have a largely scientifically illiterate population in this country, making it difficult for people to understand what is taking place and what is at stake in some of these crises. Moreover, oil spills will continue to be an issue for our nation, she says: “There will certainly be another major oil spill in the USA…most likely in Antarctica.”
Dr. Kinner’s visit gave our students a model of a successful career in science, and left us contemplating the role of science in our lives and in the natural world.