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Arnold School of Public Health


I Am Public Health: Shelby Butz

October 3, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Shelby Butz had her career goals narrowed down to two paths when she just a kid, and both led to the ocean. “I always loved the water and finding sea creatures in the sand on beach vacations,” she says. “When I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I replied that I wanted to explore and help protect the ocean, or to be a mermaid.”

When it was time to go to college, the Pennsylvania native decided to focus on the first option by moving to South Carolina to attend Coastal Carolina University where she also played on the school’s soccer team. As a marine science major, Butz discovered a passion for research and made her first connection with the University of South Carolina.

Working with two of her undergraduate professors, Juli Harding and Jane Guentzel, she became interested in invertebrates and ecotoxicology. Several of Butz’s laboratory classes were held at USC’s Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences where she gained hands-on experience conducting research in the field.

Once I figured out that I could research anthropogenic input interactions and the effects on marine and estuarine environments to help protect the ocean, I knew this was the right career path for me.

-Shelby Butz, Ph.D. Student in ENHS

“I knew immediately after my first visit to the Baruch Institute, and after meeting the talented and amazing scientists that worked there, that I wanted to be part of the lab and this was where I wanted to conduct my research,” she says. “Once I figured out that I could research anthropogenic input interactions and the effects on marine and estuarine environments to help protect the ocean, I knew this was the right career path for me.”

Choosing USC for her master’s degree in marine sciences was an easy decision. In addition to the University’s connection with the Baruch Institute, Butz was drawn to the established and renowned level of advanced scientific research as well as the opportunity to work with Professor of Biology James Pinckney. “After reading almost every paper he had ever written, I interviewed with Dr. Pinckney to see if he had room for me in his lab,” she says. “He and my lab mates became a second family for me—a science family.”

Her science family expanded when Pinckney introduced Butz to Professor of Environmental Nanoscience Jamie Lead and the field of nanoscience. “After completing my master’s degree, I knew I wanted to be involved with the excellent research conducted at the Center for Environmental Nanoscience and Risk (CENR), directed by Dr. Lead, and to move into an environmental emphasis by focusing on the ecotoxicology of nanomaterials in the marine and estuarine environments,” she says. “Dr. Lead offered me a place in his lab following my July 2015 graduation. With Dr. Geoff Scott as the Chair of the Environmental Health Sciences Department and Dr. Dwayne Porter as the Graduate Director, I knew that this was the place where I would excel and find as well as create the best opportunities for a successful career.”

Butz is now funded on a National Science Foundation grant, with Lead as the Principal Investigator and Marie-Noele Croteau (United States Geological Survey) and Sam Luoma (University of California Davis) as collaborators. She is working to understand fundamental processes in nanotoxicology using novel nanohybrids developed and patented by Lead and CENR Research Assistant Professor Ruth Merrifield.

I knew that this was the place where I would excel and find as well as create the best opportunities for a successful career.

-Shelby Butz, Ph.D. Student in ENHS

Now a year into her doctoral program (Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences), Butz’s interests center on biological oceanography, ecotoxicology, nanomaterial fate and behavior in complex media, and environmental policy. She recently received the Best Student Poster Award at the 11th International Conference on the Environmental Effects of Nanoparticles and Nanomaterials for her poster on “AgNP Accumulation in Aquatic Organisms and Implications for Trophic Transfer.”

The Arnold Fellow is currently in the middle of a semester in Australia where she is working with Simon Apte at the Lucas Heights facility of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to research new analytical methods for the detection of dissolved silver and silver containing nanomaterials in marine waters. In the spring, she will travel to Menlo Park, Calif. to work with Croteau to investigate the uptake, retention, and loss of silver nanomaterials using both experimental and modelling approaches.

“Both of these projects will greatly enhance the research to be included in my dissertation,” says Butz, who hopes to overcome a specific challenge within her field. “The trouble with coupling seawater and nanoscience is that the instrumentation is not designed for seawater because of the high salt concentration. This method must be developed in order to understand the interactions and fate of AgNPs in complex media to then understand the biological response of organisms.”

Dr. Lead provides endless advice, encouragement and confidence in me. He’s always the calming voice on the other side of the desk when things go wrong and the first to express excitement when things go well.

-Shelby Butz, Ph.D. Student in ENHS

After her 2018 graduation, Butz plans to continue her research by applying for a Sea Grant fellowship that focuses on resource management and national policy decisions that affect ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources. As a graduate teaching assistant and a regular speaker for USC’s Students Engaged in Aquatic Sciences (SEAS) Club, Butz is also committed to mentoring undergraduates as well as high school students and children in both educational (e.g., EdVenture program) and athletic contexts (e.g., volunteer soccer coach).

“The field of environmental health sciences opens a multitude of opportunities,” says Butz of recommending the department’s various programs to prospective students. “I am a marine scientist and beginning my degree in environmental health sciences, I have increased my knowledge about the environment and understanding of how various parts of the environment work together and are affected by one another. I have been exposed to classes such as epidemiology and concepts of environmental health sciences that have provided me with additional tools and skills to enhance my research and training from angles I never saw before.”

She also recommends finding influential mentors—ones who are invested in students’ growth for the long haul. “Dr. Pinckney saw potential in me from the very beginning and continues to be an important influence while Dr. Porter encourages me to push the envelope and strive for the unimaginable,” says Butz. “Dr. Lead provides endless advice, encouragement and confidence in me. He’s always the calming voice on the other side of the desk when things go wrong and the first to express excitement when things go well.” Fortunately for Butz and the CENR team, things are going really well.


Related: CENR engages K-12 children on the topic of nanomaterials with new program at EdVenture; CENR’s Mohammed Baalousha serves as an invited speaker at international conference