Marina VanceBackground Info—non-academic, industry experience, hobbies

I was born and raised in Florianópolis, an island in southern Brazil. I obtained my BS and MS in environmental engineering in Brazil. I spent 3 years working as an air quality engineering consultant in southern Brazil between BS and MS. During this time, I collected air samples in over a dozen industrial sites and analyzed them to develop odor impact assessment reports. In 2008, I moved to the US to pursue a PhD in environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and I’ve been in the US ever since.

Are you active in any professional societies?

Yes. I am a member of the American Association for Aerosol Research (AAAR), the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization (SNO), the Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professors (AEESP), and the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ). This sounds like a lot, but because my work falls under environmental nanotechnology and air quality, I try to participate in organizations in both fields.


What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about doing experimental research (it’s so much fun!) and about finding ways to communicate our science and its impacts to the general society. I take issue when researchers stay in their “ivory tower” and don’t make an effort to help the public understand what they do and why it matters. With better science communication, we can bring more people to choose careers in science and engineering, we can help the broader population make smarter choices, and we can help policy makers in decision making.

What classes do you teach?

I am relatively new at CU (this is now my second year), and so far I have taught Mechanical Engineering Senior Design and a graduate technical elective called “Nanotechnology for Environmental Sustainability”. This is a really fun course that is taught using Team-Based Learning. In it, students first learn the differences between nanotechnology and nanoscience, and the difference between engineered, incidental, and naturally-occurring nanomaterials. Then, we explore the most common types of nanomaterials, their properties and applications, and then we look at the environmental implications and applications of nanomaterials. In the future, I am interested in teaching other air-quality related courses, such as Air Pollution Control.

What is your favorite thing about being an environmental engineering professor at CU?

I love the fact that I can work with excellent students from both the environmental engineering and mechanical engineering programs. I think we all gain a lot from being able to interact with each other and use our interdisciplinary perspectives to help the world.

What sets CU’s environmental engineering program apart from others?

The environmental engineering program is really special. I love our space at SEEC and SEEL and the interactions that are fostered there. We are also very fortunate to be near so much academic and research expertise in Boulder, with multiple national labs within a 30-min drive and many other universities within a 1-hour drive. This gives us a much wider range of possibilities for collaborations and, specifically for students, to find interesting summer projects.
Also, we are in the “Mecca” of air quality research. Did you know that the state of Colorado’s most disproportionately popular job is “atmospheric or space scientist”? This means that if you would like to learn about air quality, there is no shortage of experts in the area.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom to give to prospective or current students?

I’d recommend that you explore all over campus and beyond to enrich your degree with courses and experiences in other areas, including health and law.

Your research focuses on aerosol emissions.  Why is minimizing exposure to aerosols so important?  What does the public need to be more aware about when it comes to these air pollutants?

Of the main routes of exposure to environmental contaminants (dermal contact, ingestion, inhalation), inhalation is of the most concern for me because we cannot control what we breathe as well as what we touch or eat. In fact, we are still discovering ways in which the inhalation of air pollutants (especially aerosols) affects health. We now know that air pollution kills 7 million people per year. Beyond that, I am curious about chronic, low-dose exposures that may be linked to conditions that we are still discovering. For example, exposure to PM2.5 (particulate matter < 2.5 micrometers) has been recently tied to mental health issues, such as brain aging and anxiety.

How did you become interested in air quality research?

When I enrolled in my bachelor’s program, I made my decision for environmental engineering based on two facts: First, it was my priority to choose a career that would lead to a positive impact in the world. Second, I enjoyed studying chemistry, biology, and physics equally, and environmental engineering seemed like the best option because it allowed me to continue studying all those subjects. And after taking one air quality course, I was hooked. Pollutants mixing, reacting, and being transported through the air (a compressible fluid!) was the most interesting thing I had ever learned.

You are currently leading the HOMEChem project, an indoor air chemistry field study employing researchers from nine different universities.  Why are interdisciplinary collaborations such as this important to the progression of science?

HOMEChem is going to be an exciting study that includes chemists, chemical engineers, civil and environmental engineers, building scientists, microbiologists, and more. In today’s world, we need multiple perspectives to be able to address the modern “wicked problems” of the world. These are problems that are too complex to be solved with simple, traditional solutions and require thinking outside the box. Modern air pollution is a wicked problem because we don’t necessarily want to give up on the technological solutions that bring them about or because solutions may not be affordable to everyone.

You have coordinated a number of educational outreach events, including some geared towards children.  Why are these important to you?

As I mentioned above, I am passionate about communicating science to the general public, especially children and their parents. Sometimes, through a simple interactions, kids can be empowered by knowledge and learn that they too can become scientists one day.

Colorado is a long way from Brazil, where you earned your bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  What is the biggest obstacle you have faced in your journey, and how did you overcome it?

My biggest obstacles were adapting to the language and the culture, while trying to maintain my individual identity. Here is a personal story: Before I moved to the US, I worked very hard on my English pronunciation, so that I could be easily understood and so that people wouldn’t mistake my accent for lack of knowledge. I had previously been on the receiving end of comments about my accent that made me feel “othered”. After years of working very hard to have a “perfect US accent”, I realized that I had gone too far. I was losing my identity as a Brazilian and as an immigrant, so I decided to stop working on it. So, please think about how much mental energy I have spent over the years overthinking about something so simple as speaking, all of it due to a need for acceptance and inclusion. It makes me happy that in Boulder, at CU, and in the EVEN program we have an amazingly kind and embracing community that respects other’s identities and backgrounds as beautiful and enriching.

Marina Vance contact Information

Marina Vance Lab Website

February 21st, 2018