October 1, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
Pennsylvania native, Shelby Butz has called South Carolina her home for nearly a decade, with half of that time spent in Columbia as a UofSC student, but she is still exploring the world. With a passion for understanding and protecting marine environments, the environmental health sciences (ENHS) doctoral candidate and South Carolina SmartState Center for Environmental Nanoscience and Risk (CENR) researcher has traveled to Australia (twice), Switzerland, Colorado and Charleston—all in the past year—in her quest to learn more about these varied and complex habitats.
As a marine science major at Coastal Carolina University where she also played soccer, Butz discovered a passion for research and met UofSC scientists working at the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences. The Institute housed some of her undergraduate science laboratories, and it was there that she first gained hands-on experience in the field.
After her 2013 graduation, Butz moved from the Myrtle Beach area to Columbia, where she would spend the next several years working toward master’s (marine sciences) and doctoral degrees. During her master's program, she began researching nanoparticles and algae, which led her to work with ENHS professor CENR director Jamie Lead. The Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellow (she was a John F. Vernberg Fellow during her master’s program) found the transition into the Ph.D. in ENHS program to be a seamless one.
One of the coolest and most valuable things about my time here at USC has been to step back and look at the comparison of the opportunities I have had.
-Shelby Butz, environmental health sciences Ph.D. candidate
She continued working with Lead at CENR, where she dug deeper into the field of nanoscience. With support from a National Science Foundation-funded project led by Lead, Butz began studying fundamental mechanisms of nanomaterial biouptake in marine and estuarine environments.
During her doctoral program, Butz has received honors such as 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.” She also received several travel grants to present her pioneering work at various conferences and represented her department on the Arnold School Dean’s Student Advisory Council, which she currently leads as president.
In the fall of 2016, Butz traveled to Australia where she worked alongside Simon Apte at the Lucas Heights facility of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) to research new analytical methods for the detection of dissolved silver and silver containing nanomaterials in marine waters. She also assisted other students with their projects to broaden her understanding of current research in a global environment even further. In the evenings, Butz walked the coastline, exploring the tide pools, beach combing and snorkeling.
“While at CSIRO I was able to get an international view on environmental health issues, initiatives, and practices,” she says. “It is always eye opening to travel to another country but even more so to be able to dive in deeper and get a first-person view of how your specific field or career works as compared to ours in the States.”
My advice to all graduate students is to reach out and use your advisor’s contacts, because by using these contacts you will broaden your network, gain new experiences to help you not only currently but down the road for future endeavors, and this allows you to create a bridge for others to follow.
-Shelby Butz, environmental health sciences Ph.D. candidate
She returned to Australia a few months later to collect additional data. Then, during the summer of 2018, Butz worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study salt marshes in Charleston. Specifically, she examined how novel iron oxide nanoparticles could be used to remediate oil pollution in estuaries. Butz utilized NOAA’s mesocosm system, an outdoor experimental station that examines the natural environment under controlled conditions. Developed by Lead at CENR, this was the nanoparticles' first application in realistic systems.
“Thanks to the amazing connections CENR and ENHS have with NOAA, we were welcomed in to use their mesocosm system to mimic a real environmental oil spill and clean up scenario,” Butz says. “Not only was this experience invaluable for my dissertation research completion, it also gave me another inside view of how U.S. governmental research works. I am still in awe of how this lab worked together in every aspect to complete this project. The dedication of each and every scientist to not only to conducting and reporting solid science but also to each other was amazing.”
In preparation for her 2019 graduation (in just four fast-paced years), Butz is using these experiences to complete her dissertation project, which combines analytical development, mechanistic studies on nanomaterial uptake to marine organisms and applications of nanomaterials to improve the environment.
“One of the coolest and most valuable things about my time here at USC has been to step back and look at the comparison of the opportunities I have had,” Butz says. “Not only have I had the opportunity to learn from my advisor, Dr. Lead, who is a world known chemist in environmental nanoscience, I have been able to work with a previous NOAA center director, two NOAA NERR directors, and countless academic professors. I was also able to experience the interworking of two completely different but yet similar governmental laboratories and work with some of the top scientists in the world. These experiences have molded me as a scientist and have been crucial in my career path decisions.”
“Shelby has been an exemplary student,” adds Lead. “She is highly motivated, intelligent, keen and able to learn, and applies herself to her studies thoroughly. In addition, she has a been a model co-worker, always helping others and with an excellent attitude. She has been a pleasure to supervise, and I expect great things from her future career!”
Butz’s immediate post-graduation plans involve securing a postdoctoral fellowship, investigating ecosystem health related to coastal zone management and resources. Her long-term goals include extending the impact of her work by using it to inform resource management and national policy decisions that affect ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources.
“My advice to all graduate students is to reach out and use your advisor’s contacts, because by using these contacts you will broaden your network, gain new experiences to help you not only currently but down the road for future endeavors, and this allows you to create a bridge for others to follow,” she says. “If it was not for these connections and opportunities I would not have been able to complete what I set out to accomplish in my Ph.D.”