Professor visits Scotland to showcase monitoring systems that measure mercury

University’s Mae Gustin presents research at prestigious international conference

Professor visits Scotland to showcase monitoring systems that measure mercury

University’s Mae Gustin presents research at prestigious international conference

Seen as a key player in the mercury monitoring world, Mae Gustin, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences professor and University of Nevada, Reno Foundation Professor, was one of nine professionals selected for "Meet a Mentor Lunches," at the 11th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant in Edinburgh, Scotland. The lunch offered attendees the opportunity to learn about Gustin's extensive research.

"It was overwhelming but exciting," Gustin said when asked what it felt like to be considered a mentor in the mercury world. "I pegged the introvert scale on the Briggs-Meyer test and I'm generally shy. I have to work very hard to get up and talk to a group of people. As a professor, scientist, and teacher I have to do this regularly."

Gustin was asked to speak at the international conference on mercury about her research on measurement device uncertainties for gaseous oxidized mercury, a pollutant that is found across the globe in the atmosphere. She led a group of scientists from around the country, working closely with University students and faculty, to conduct experiments that measure airborne mercury.

A small complex of monitoring systems was set up on the University's Main Station Field Laboratory to conduct the work.

The name of the project was the Reno Atmospheric Mercury experiment, where the objective was to compare current and newly developed methods through five different monitoring systems that measure gaseous mercury in air at the same location. The teams of scientists took free-standing ambient air, ambient air and spiked air measurements with all groups sampling on the same sampling manifold. The data helped the scientists determine the more accurate methods.

Airborne, inert elemental mercury can travel around the globe, from China to the United States for example, become oxidized and then more readily deposit in the environment. This global pollutant is the subject of intense studies by the five universities who participated. A variety of new methods to measure the amount of mercury in the air, in all its forms, was tested, compared and challenged using carefully designed systems.

"I think my research on mercury has had global impacts and the work presented at the meeting is extremely important," Gustin said. "Basically work done, and presented in published papers over the past three years shows that we are not measuring all of a form of Hg (mercury) in the atmosphere-gaseous oxidized mercury - using the currently applied instrument. The results are a bit earth shattering but acknowledging this is important because, one, it will help us better explain past observations, and two, this is the form that is water soluble and more readily enters ecosystems."

The conference, attended by 900 delegates from more than 65 countries, covered all issues relating to mercury and its potential negative effects on the environment. For Gustin, it was a particularly memorable time.

"I was so excited to see one of my mentor's, Steve Lindberg a retiree from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, that I nominated for the lifetime achievement award in mercury research receive that award" Gustin said. "He really deserved it, and I was really happy to see him get it."

Although Gustin is seen as a mentor in the mercury world, this was not the original path on which she had set out, and it has turned into a long term career.

"I had an academic position in Indianapolis teaching geology," Gustin said. "Overall, I was not very happy there. My husband was working for the mining industry based out of Reno and I decided to move to Reno and see what I could find there, where I got a part-time teaching at Truckee Meadows Community College and Sierra Nevada College in Incline. Then a student in my TMCC class told Professor Glenn Miller about my class where Glenn linked me up with a scientist at the Desert Research Institute doing mercury research. From there, mercury turned into a major research area of mine."

After 19 years at the University and working with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Gustin still finds enjoyment in teaching and research.

"I have lots of memories of interesting things and most of them are those working with the students that have helped me over the years," Gustin said. "I have been lucky to have great undergraduate and graduate students, and they are the ones that keep the lab operating and the research moving forward. Their enthusiasm and excitement for their work and their appreciation for learning makes me thankful to be a part of the university and to have this job. 

Gustin is working with the National Science Foundation and Electric Power Research Institute on understanding how the chemistry of gaseous oxidized mercury varies over space and time. In addition, she focuses on understanding the sources of atmospheric ozone to Nevada and the western United States, which is funded by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. Ozone is a greenhouse gas and oxidant that affects human respiratory and whole ecosystem health.

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