“At Imperial I found fantastic laboratory facilities and a thriving research environment, where excellence and integrity are at the core of everything we do.”
As a child I was fascinated by space and planets and my dream was to become an astronaut. However, as it is often the case, perceptions changed, and by the time I had to enrol at university I realised I cared more about our own home planet than what surrounded it.
I studied Geology at the University of Milan – Bicocca, in Italy, and during my second year I had a fantastic opportunity to attend a marine ecology workshop in the Maldives, where the university has a laboratory outpost. It did not take me long at all to realise I wanted to dedicate my career to studying and protecting the ocean.
Fast forward a few years, I got an MSc Marine Sciences from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, had the opportunity to work as a researcher for the national research centre of Australia (CSIRO), and eventually ended up at Imperial for my PhD. In my research, I study marine pollution from human activities and how pollutants move from their source to the ocean. Initially, I worked on plastic pollution issues on the coasts of Australia and in the Atlantic Ocean. Now, despite still having an interest in plastics, I work on a much more invisible pollutant: lead.
Lead is a heavy metal, toxic for humans even at low concentrations. Since the late 1800s, and especially in the last century, the natural occurrence of lead in the ocean has been severely perturbed by emissions from human activities, such as the use of leaded gasoline, waste incineration, coal combustion and metal smelting. By comparing the chemical composition of the lead I find in seawater to that of its potential sources, I can trace the pathways of pollution from land to the ocean. You can think of it like being a detective – I examine the “fingerprints” of lead to determine where it came from.
At Imperial I found fantastic laboratory facilities and a thriving research environment, where excellence and integrity are at the core of everything we do. Going forward, I hope to be able to translate my research into meaningful action to protect our ocean, as we only have one and it is vital for our own lives and that of our planet.
Follow Arianna on Twitter @OlivelliAri.