Study Shows Scientists Investigating Extreme Environments

Emma Bullock’s CV mirrors that of many MIT graduate students, featuring roles as a teaching assistant, authoring papers, securing grants, and honing lab and programming competencies. What distinguishes her is her expertise in “fieldwork experience and survival training for Arctic research.”

Bullock, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical oceanography at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), delves into the Arctic Circle for sample collection, necessitating extensive training on Arctic gear usability, wildlife interactions—like an inquisitive polar bear that infiltrated her team’s equipment—and navigating unpaved roads.

Having visited Prudhoe Bay, Alaska five times, she dedicates long hours, from 5:00 a.m. to 11 p.m., extracting and analyzing samples from Simpson Lagoon. Her research illuminates Arctic environmental shifts, focusing on mercury level alterations in groundwater linked to permafrost thaw.

Her work holds practical relevance as the mercury’s release from permafrost could influence Arctic communities and global fish consumers. She highlights, “As the mercury escapes from the permafrost, it has the potential to impact not just Arctic communities but also anyone who eats fish in the entire world.”

Growing up in rural Vermont fostered Bullock’s affinity for environmental studies, rooted in her childhood fondness for nature. Despite her steadfast environmental career pursuit, several challenges marred her journey to MIT.

At Haverford College, she realized disparities with her peers, notably her socioeconomic disparity. Hailing from Vermont, she encountered financial constraints unfamiliar to classmates, advocating for prudent financial decisions, like opting for a research-oriented laptop over a smartphone during undergrad.

Majoring in chemistry due to Haverford’s lack of an environmental science major, she delved into environmental research under Helen White’s guidance, spotlighting issues like flawed statistical tests in collaborative projects. Her encounters with sexism consolidated her desire to excel, fostering gender diversification in STEM fields.

Facing rejections from multiple graduate programs, including MIT, Bullock embraced research roles, like lab technician at the Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology, Bremen, studying methane emissions, showcasing her resilience and commitment.

Aligning with Matthew Charette’s renowned work in the WHOI Sea Grant Program, Bullock delves into Arctic groundwater chemistry, examining mercury variations influenced by permafrost thaw. Her insights on mercury levels draw parallels to health concerns from mercury exposure in seafood consumption.

Recognized as an Arctic PASSION Ambassador, Bullock participates in “sharing circle” exchanges, connecting with Indigenous communities, to propagate the significance of Arctic research. She projects environmental advocacy through en-justice, a platform uplifting unsung environmental heroes via a digital exhibit and interviews.

After her upcoming graduation, Bullock eyes Arctic research continuance and fostering community-researcher bonds. Her zeal for Arctic exploration and proactive initiatives underscores her commitment to environmental stewardship, solidifying her impact in the environmental science domain.

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