Department of Biomedical Engineering
Chemical Insights Research Institute of Underwriters Laboratories
Over many years, the MIT SRP team has cultivated strong relationships with communities through trust and mutually shared goals. These relationships are an important part of the MIT SRP’s ongoing and proposed work to find solutions to reduce hazardous substances in the environment, such as N-nitrosamines in drinking water.
In drinking water cases, the SRP’s involvement illustrates a multifaceted problem-solving and communication approach for protecting public health, working closely with impacted populations including both adults and children. To further these relationships and to proactively address community needs, the Community Engagement Core is guided by two primary objectives.
First, the CEC has broad educational goals – including teaching and inspiring the next generation of researchers and scientists. By coordinating with the SRP Projects, the CEC continues to create innovative, hands-on learning experiences that teach key concepts of biology and environmental health using easy-to-understand and engaging models. For example, by creating a system where different color LEGO™ bricks represent different atoms, youth can more easily learn about the constituents of air in the “Understanding Air” curriculum.
In addition, Dr. Kathy Vandiver has created numerous tactile learning kits made from unique injection-molded parts. In particular, these are useful for teaching fundamental concepts related to protein structure (an aspect that is not readily available through other sources) as well as about how DNA is replicated and codes for RNA. Through the CEC, Dr. Kathy Vandiver provides teachers with models and a curriculum based on the use of the MIT Edgerton Center DNA and Protein Sets to illustrate gene and environment interactions and to explain health outcomes. (note that BLUE= make into links for clicking on.) Another fundamental concept is how genes code for proteins that affect disease susceptibility. This is particularly relevant in the context of environmental justice. Taken together, the unique tools and curriculum developed in-house is having a significant and broad impact on how instructors convey fundamental concepts of biology. Beneficiaries span the US and include international locations.
The CEC is responsible for building trusted partnerships with impacted communities through mutual knowledge sharing, recognizing that community members’ knowledge about people, places, and historical context can be highly valuable. Additionally, the CEC’s efforts in community outreach provide SRP researchers with field-work opportunities. For example, community members in Wilmington, MA and in Sipayik, Maine have assisted researchers in collecting water samples from their water systems. As one example, Dr. Kathy Vandiver and Dr. Harry Hemond worked together with two master’s students to sample water from homes. Remarkably, ~30% of the population participated in the study, including indigenous people. This successful Citizen Science project led to many benefits, including guidance on how to reduce the lead levels that are consumed in people’s homes.
MIT Superfund Research Program
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
617.258.0260 | ude.tim@PRSTIM
NIH-NIEHS Superfund Research Program Grant P42-ES027707