Student Perspectives: Elizabeth Gillispie

Soil science Ph.D. student Elizabeth Gillispie says the mix of experiences she’s gained at NC State – high and low tech; research, outreach and policy; and field and laboratory work – is the kind of diversity she hopes for in a career. Her current research sheds light on arsenic contamination of groundwater, which can cause serious human health problems. Transcript:
“We all need groundwater. We all drink from it, whether it’s in Cambodia where I am studying or in North Carolina. We all rely on clean healthy water to be healthy people.
“My name’s Elizabeth Gillispie. And I’m from Alexandria, Virginia. I’m getting my Ph.D. in soil science at NC State University.
“The general goal of what I am looking at now is to pretty much quantify the potential for future arsenic contamination of groundwater: What’s the likelihood of arsenic that is found in high concentrations in an aquifer that neighbors another aquifer with, say, non-detectable concentrations of arsenic – what’s the likelihood that that arsenic could be transported with groundwater and contaminate the uncontaminated aquifer? – and then also, well, what about arsenic that is naturally present in sediment of the uncontaminated aquifer and what’s the likelihood of it over time being released into the groundwater?
“Specifically, I look at the mineralogy and redox chemistry of manganese oxides on limiting the transport of arsenic.
“The first place my research has taken me was Cambodia. My adviser two months in to my project, I think, of my master’s took me to Cambodia. It was amazing.
“When I went the second time, which was this winter, in January, I was the lead. I had to figure out the plan. I had to figure out where we were going to drill. I had to figure out what sediments we wanted to collect. I had to help talk and translate.
“And it just brings this personal connection that you are genuinely helping people who are showing that it matters.
“So we are taking those samples from Cambodia and looking at the super microscale of it. And it was really neat to go to California to the synchrotron, where we get to view spectroscopy to analyze these samples. You walk in, and it’s like microscopes and beams and computers. It was such a different experience from being outdoors in the field analyzing samples with cows around and chickens running everywhere to like this really scientific, Star Trek-looking way of analyzing samples.
“And so those two different experiences and two different types of traveling – that’s what I want to do. I want that mix.
“To be given the experiences NC State has given me I’m better off than … I ever would imagine I’d be in say five years from now, so I can only imagine what more time here is going to give me.”