World-class scientist, world-class athlete

Environmental sciences and engineering doctoral candidate Anne Galyean is forging new paths in nanochemistry. She is also a world-class downhill mountain biker.

Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it was an Idaho upbringing that encouraged creativity and curiosity. Maybe it’s a one-in-a-billion mixture of nature and nurture, with a dash of something not yet definitively quantified. Whatever the components and their unique combinations, the result is a rare mixture of intensity, curiosity, commitment, intelligence, heightened competitiveness and a relentless drive in the pursuit of challenging goals.

It’s a perfect personality paradigm for a world-class scientist – or a world class athlete.

Galyean, a doctoral candidate studying nanochemistry in the environmental field at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, is also Anne Galyean, who earned a spot on the 2013 U.S. Downhill Mountain Biking World Championship Team.

“This might be a good place for my favorite quote,” Galyean says. “One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

The quote, by Albert Einstein, is treated more like a credo than inspiration by Galyean. Her longstanding interest in environmental issues spurred her to use her undergraduate chemistry degree as a platform to bring about positive change in an area that could affect public health locally and globally – drinking water. Her ideas had coalesced around the burgeoning field of nanotechnology.

“I had hoped to study silver nanoparticles as a potential drinking water disinfectant,” she says. “It became pretty clear, however, that a lot of the basic science about engineered nanoparticle fate and transport in the environment had not been done.”

So Galyean decided to do it herself. This meant she needed to find a doctoral program that would be willing to let a candidate run with a pioneering initiative in burgeoning area – not an easy task. Then she met Howard Weinberg.

Weinberg, associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC Gillings School, specializes in aquatic chemistry and has made a career examining the sources and fates of pollutants in surface and groundwater, as well as potential remediation efforts. Using nanotechnology to further these aims was not part of his current area of study, but he was intrigued by Galyean’s ideas and her scholarship. It wasn’t long before he moved from “intrigue” to “extremely impressed.”

“Anne has consistently shown exceptional organizational skills, has very mature insights, and is creative, both in the classroom and in the research laboratory environment,” Weinberg says. “Only an analytical chemist of Anne’s caliber would be able to take on the challenge to find a way to quantify engineered nanoparticles in our water.”

Read more from the article, Gillings School of Global Public Health.

April 29, 2014.