Graduate Students News

May 2022

Melissa Fiffer Dissertation Defense - Environmental Exposures and Diabetes Risk

Congratulations to Melissa Fiffer who successfully defended her dissertation titled Environmental Exposures and Diabetes Risk on April 29, 2022. After working at the US EPA for nine years, Melissa joined the department in fall 2018 to work with Francine Laden and Jaime Hart on her PhD in Environmental Epidemiology. As part of the Spatial and Contextual Exposomics and Epidemiology lab, her research interests broadly include air pollution and health, and the impact of contextual factors such as greenness and walkability. During her time at HSPH, Melissa served as Co-President of the Environmental Justice Student Organization (EJSO) and as a student representative on the Sustainability Plan Subcommittee of the Presidential Committee on Sustainability. She was also a member of the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL).  Melissa plans to apply her newly honed research skills and her past policy and program management experience towards pressing environmental health challenges.
Watch the Defense Here

Man Liu - Dissertation Defense - Environmental Radiation and Human Health: From Radon to the Sun

Congratulations to Man Liu who successfully defended her dissertation titled ”Environmental Radiation and Human Health: From Radon to the Sun” on May 6 2022. Man joined the Environmental, Epidemiology and Risk program and was advised by Petros Koutrakis. Man’s research focuses on the exposure assessment of particle radioactivity from long-lived radon decay products, and the pregnancy-related outcomes from exposure to solar and geomagnetic activities and She was a co-author with Carolina L Zilli Vieira and Koutrakis in the EP Eurospace article Solar and geomagnetic activity enhance the effects of air pollutants on atrial fibrillation.

After graduating Man will work in a consultancy role . A recording of Mans dissertation defense will be posted in the near future.

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Dissertation Defense - Ashley Gripper - We don't farm because it's trendy:An Environmental Justice Approach to Exploring the Connection between Urban Agriculture and Health

Congratulations to Ashley Gripper who successfully defended her dissertation on April 11, 2022. Ashley joined the department in 2017 under the supervision of Gary Adamkiewicz. Her research explores the impact of urban agriculture on the health and wellbeing of Black people in Philadelphia. Ashley was the second author on numerous publications and most recently
“Built and Social Environments, Environmental Justice and Maternal Pregnancy Complications“ which will be published in  “Current Obstetrics and Gynecology ”

Ashley was recently Appointed as an Assistant Professor of Racism and Health Equity at Drexel University School of Public Health at the Ubuntu Center for Racism, Global Movements, and Population Health Equity and her primary appointment will be in the department of Community Health and Prevention and secondary appointment in the Environmental and Occupational Health department.

To request a link to watch her defense please contact Ashley at asg745@g.harvard.edu

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Barrak Alahmad - Dissertation Defense - Climate Change & Health: Implications for Inherently Hot Regions and Cardiovascular Health

Congratulations to Barrak Alahmad who successfully defended his dissertation titled “Climate Change & Health: Implications for Inherently Hot Regions and Cardiovascular Health” on April 28, 2022. Barrak joined the department in 2018 under the supervision of Petros Koutrakis, he investigated air quality, climate change & health in the Middle East, specifically the adverse impacts of dust storms and extreme temperatures. His other research interests include migrant workers health, environmental risk assessment, and environmental cardiology. Barrak was the first author on numerous publications and most recently “Disparities in excess deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic among migrant workers in Kuwait” which was published in the BMC Public Health Journal. His work on migrant workers was also highlighted by the WHO in “Migrant workers bear the brunt of extreme heat in Kuwait“.

Barrak will now begin work as a Research Fellow with Petros Koutrakis to continue exploring the effects of climate change on health in Kuwait and the broader Middle East.

To request a link to watch his defense please contact Barrak at b.alahmad@g.harvard.edu

Linda Tomasso - Dissertation Defense - Investigating an Affinity for Nature as a Determinant of Nature Use and Health Benefits,

Congratulations to Linda Powers Tomasso who successfully defended her dissertation, “Investigating an Affinity for Nature as a Determinant of Nature Use and Health Benefits” on April 25, 2022. Linda joined the department in 2017 under the supervision of Jack Spengler and has researched the emotional and cognitive benefits of nature from a mixed-methods approach to exposure assessment. Her work brings qualitative insights into a discipline typically quantitatively focused to understand the origins of nature-seeking behavior, social and structural barriers to nature engagement, and the impacts of these factors on equitable nature access. Linda was the first author on numerous publications and most recently “The Relationship between Nature Deprivation and Individual Wellbeing across Urban Gradients under COVID-19” which was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. She recently conducted a novel museum-based experiment to assess stress reduction from live nature vs landscape paintings for use in institutionalized settings.

Linda will continue her research as a post-doctoral Research Fellow with Jack Spengler.

Watch the Defence Here

Strain Identification and Quantitative Analysis in Microbial Communities

Doctoral Student Di (Marina) Chen was a co-author on a recent article in the Journal of Microbiology, “Strain Identification and Quantitative Analysis in Microbial Communities” The article provides an in depth discussion of recently available computational tools that can be applied for this task, as well as statistical models and gaps in performing and interpreting any of these three main types of studies using strain-resolved shotgun metagenomic profiling of microbial communities. Marina will be presenting some of her research a the  Harvard Chan Microbiome in Public Health (HCMPH) Symposium on May 16, 2022.
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Restless legs syndrome severity in the National RLS Opioid Registry during the COVID-19 pandemic

Master of Science student Chris Romero-Gutierrez was co-author on a recent article in the Sleep Medicine Journal, Restless legs syndrome severity in the National RLS Opioid Registry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research hypothesized that Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) symptom severity would be increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in a sample of patients with diagnosed RLS and participants with increases in RLS severity were significantly more likely than others to see increases in sleep disturbance, depression, and anxiety.
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Mortality Attributable to Long-Term Exposure to Ambient Fine Particulate Matter: Insights from the Epidemiologic Evidence for Understudied Locations

PhD Student Kyle Colonna was first author in the Environmental Science & Technology Journal article “Mortality Attributable to Long-Term Exposure to Ambient Fine Particulate Matter: Insights from the Epidemiologic Evidence for Understudied Locations“. Researching how long-term exposure to ambient fine particles (PM2.5) has been consistently associated with mortality. This critical review discusses the evidence for (i) the associated risk of mortality, (ii) the shape of the concentration response function, (iii) a causal interpretation, and (iv) how the source mix/composition of PM2.5 and population characteristics may alter the effect.
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