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Research Profile: Equitable Access to Clean Water

November 10, 2021

Durham native Toheedat Bakare (UNC ’24, CSS 8) is pursuing an environmental health sciences major with minors in biology and creative writing. Her research in the UNC Water Institute searches for practical solutions to improve water quality in vulnerable communities.

Where do you conduct your research?

I research in the Brown Lab under Dr. Joe Brown in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

What research questions does your lab study?

My lab, which is a part of UNC’s Water Institute, has many projects focused on finding practical solutions to improve water quality. There is a special emphasis on underserved or vulnerable communities, as they are often at most risk of having water with harmful organisms or molecules, such as hookworm or arsenic. Access to water, as decided by the UN, is a human right, yet a considerable part of the Earth’s population does not have guaranteed clean and safe water. Our work spans across the globe, with some projects focused on local issues in North Carolina and others dealing with the water crisis in Africa.

Please tell us a little about your current research project.

A majority of work deals with the Alabama Hookworm project. Many residents in the Alabama Black Belt have insufficient access to proper sanitation infrastructure and the soil makes it harder to properly flush out dirty water, leading to an increased risk of infection for the drinking water. I spend my time in the lab analyzing fecal samples (using microscopy) of school-aged children from specific counties in the Alabama Black Belt to see if any hookworm or other parasitic ova can be identified. I also prep samples for further analysis in the lab using PCR or to be sent to the CDC.

How has this experience shaped your future goals?

Working in this lab has introduced me to what it would feel like to work in a lab as a job. I love both the aspect of teamwork and independence I get to experience, collecting my data before watching it all get complied together with the data everyone else has collected. It’s satisfying to know that I’ve contributed to something larger than myself. It made me more motivated to continue to do research long-term and to look into projects that work to help underserved/disadvantaged communities.

What has been the most fun or interesting part of your research?

Working together with other undergraduates to collect data, or preparing the samples for further analysis. It’s exciting to see that someone else found a possible positive and what that could entail for the future of this project and other studies. I’m excited to see what else we can find! And I just find prepping the samples a relaxing thing to do, especially on a stressful day.

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