My name is Alterra Sanchez. I am in my fifth and final year (grad. May 2021) in the Marine Estuarine and Environmental Sciences doctoral program in environmental chemistry at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) under the guidance of Dr. Michael Gonsior and Dr. Lance Yonkos. My research is supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program award, NOAA Maryland Sea Grant Graduate Research Support Grant, and a collaboration with DC Water's Blue Plains, the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world. This support enables me to study the fate and transport of organic pollutants and microplastics in the wastewater treatment process. I have developed a method to make "weathered" microplastics for more realistic and standardized toxicology and sorption experiments. I have also created a method to measure the sorption of 5 pharmaceutical and personal care product chemicals that sorb to microplastics during wastewater treatment using UHPLC/MS/MS. My latest research project concerned the sorption of venlafaxine (the antidepressant, Effexor), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and DEET (mosquito repellant) to microplastics. With this data combined, I created a new kind of model using Dow (which considers pH) instead of Kow to better understand the sorption of polar organic pollutants to microplastics.
During my undergrad I was a research fellow in the Maximizing Access to Research Careers program funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences at San Diego State University (SDSU). I studied the effects of copper contamination on seagrass community structure for my undergraduate honors thesis. I found that seagrass and associated algae absorbed and retained significant amounts of copper long after exposure had stopped. I also found that seagrass epifauna (small organisms that live on the seagrass) were preferentially attracted to copper contaminated algae, which presents a possibility for bioaccumulation in higher trophic organisms that consume the epifauna. My research challenges the current dogma that heavy metals always deter and/or harm marine organisms.
Outreach through science education is my other passion, especially to youths in underserved communities. I also consider myself a public science advocate. I am a co-founder and past member of Making Waves, a student run organization at SDSU created to spread awareness about the marine environment to K-12 students through research and/or science based activities. I have been a mentor with the Native American Recruitment program at SDSU; whose goal is to promote academics in the Native community, as they have the lowest college enrollment rates in the nation. For four years during my PhD program, I participated in the Learning Engineering and Design Program (LEAD), where I mentored high school girls at Elizabeth Seton High School through email about how to prepare for and survive college, how to get into research, and sharing what it’s like being a graduate student in science. I also founded the UMCP Graduate Fellowship Graduate Student Support group. Here, graduate students learn and offer advice about surviving graduate school. I acted as the lead event coordinator and mentor as well as the group meeting facilitator.
My hobbies and interests include, but are not limited to (and not really in any order): yoga, baking, reading fantasy and science/action thriller novels, swimming, playing Dance Dance Revolution, Magic the Gathering card game, Goddess studies, neurological diversity, quantum physics, pinball, and metal concerts. I have participated in multiple projects; for more information about myself, and my research, please see my C.V.