Research Team

We are anthropologists and natural scientists that work at universities, private laboratories, governmental institutions, as well as non-governmental, non-profit organizations from the United States of America and Costa Rica.

Principal Investigators

Dr. Breitbart, Principal Investigator

Dr. Mya Breitbart, Professor, University of South Florida (USF) College of Marine Science: An environmental virologist, whose laboratory investigates diverse topics in virology using metagenomic approaches. She earned her Ph.D. at University of California, San Diego/San Diego State University in 2006 and has since been recognized as one of the “Brilliant 10” by Popular Science Magazine in 2013.

 

 

Dr. Cairns, Principal Investigator

Dr. Maryann Cairns, Assistant Professor, Southern Methodist University (SMU) Anthropology: An environmental anthropologist, whose research investigates the intersection of environment, infrastructure, and health through the ethnographic study of polluted waterscapes.  She earned her Ph.D. at USF in 2014.  She was awarded the prestigious US American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science &Technology Policy Fellowship, through which she has had the opportunity to advise on science policy related to global cross-boundary water problems.

 

Dr. Harwood, Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Valerie J. Harwood, Professor and Department Chair, USF Integrative Biology: An environmental microbiologist, whose laboratory investigates public health-related water microbiology (e.g., wastewater-related pathogens and indicator organisms, microbial source tracking, antibiotic resistance). She earned her Ph.D. at Old Dominion University/Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1992 and received a US Fulbright Scholar Award to Australia in 2015.

 

Key Collaborators in Costa Rica

AyA National Water Lab (LNA): The official water quality laboratory of Costa Rica, whose purpose is to plan, coordinate, and execute water quality monitoring as well as environmental health-related water quality investigations with the Ministry of Health in order to protect Costa Rica’s public health. Currently, the laboratory offers over 75 analyses, which are accredited by the Costa Rican Accreditation Entity. The following individuals will lead the LNA’s participation in the MERA Investigation: Dr. Darner Mora Alvarado, LNA Director, a Microbiologist with a Masters in Public Health and Dr. Pablo César Rivera Navarro, Coordinator of the Water, Environment, and Health Research Division, a Microbiologist with his Masters in Quality Management.

Fundación MarViva: A regional, non-governmental, non-profit organization that works to promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal resources in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Fundación MarViva works in Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia.

OneSea: A non-governmental, non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire positive change that will protect our oceans from contamination.

 

 

Costa Rican University Students, from a variety of Universities and disciplines, will work with the MERA Investigation to execute the Epidemiology study on the beach.

 

 

 

Postdoctoral Investigators

Dr. Symonds, Coordinator & USF Postdoctoral Investigator

Dr. Erin M. Symonds, Postdoctoral Investigator, USF College of Marine Science: An environmental microbiologist, who earned her Ph.D. at the University of South Florida. Her research focuses on public health-related water microbiology, specifically identifying wastewater-related pathogens in the environment and quantifying the associated human health risks. She was a US Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (EPA STAR) fellow and received a US Student Research Fulbright Fellowship.

 

Dr. Gordon Ulmer, SMU Postdoctoral Investigator

Dr. Gordon Ulmer, Postdoctoral Investigator, SMU Anthropology: An environmental and economic anthropologist whose research focuses on topics involving ecotourism, extractive economies, urban ecologies and infrastructures, and global development. He was awarded the Fulbright-Hays DDRA to support his doctoral work at The Ohio State University, which investigated how households in Amazonia Peru adapt to global processes involving resource extraction and biodiversity conservation. Gordon joins the MERA team after recently defending his Ph.D. May 2018.

 

 Graduate Students

Megan Brown, SMU Ph.D. Student

Megan Brown, Ph.D. student, SMU Anthropology: A public health specialist currently working on environmental/medical anthropology in Dr. Cairns’ lab, whose research interests include shifting patterns of health and disease in areas of environmental transition. She earned her M.Sc. in Global Health Policy from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2016. She received a Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility Public Service Fellowship in 2017.

 

Javier Gallard-Gongora, USF Ph.D. Student

Javier F. Gallard-Gongora, Ph.D. Student, USF Integrative Biology: An environmental microbiologist, who recently earned his Masters in Public Health at the Georgia Southern University. His research in Dr. Harwood’s laboratory will focus on public health-related water microbiology, ranging from wastewater indicator organisms to community perceptions and knowledge on water quality.

 

 

Adriana González, USF Ph.D. Student

Adriana González, Ph.D. Student, USF Integrative Biology: A biologist specializing in biotechnology, who worked for the last three years at the Costa Rican National Water Laboratory. Her previous research includes public health-related water microbiology. Currently, her research in Dr. Harwood’s laboratory focuses on improving methods for characterizing microbial water quality in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

 

Consultants

Biological Consulting Services, INC.: A private laboratory in Gainesville, Florida, USA, that is dedicated to advanced microbial testing of environmental samples. They are accredited by numerous agencies, including the US EPA and US Center for Disease Control (US CDC).