By Evan Lubofsky
As a child, Johns Hopkins Assistant Professor Sarah Preheim would spend her summers swimming and boating at her family’s vacation home on Queen Lake in central Massachusetts. “The water back then was nearly pristine,” she says, “so there was no place I would rather be than in the water on a hot summer day. Spending the summer at Queen Lake created a lot of positive memories for me.”
Today, the narrow lake with its many coves still draws sunbathers, swimmers, and recreational fishers each summer, but—like so many other bodies of water across the country—its water quality has plummeted, despite the fact that it is spring fed and located in a rural area without much farming. “It’s been affected mainly by fecal coliforms that close the beach and invasive plant species that clog the waterways, both of which prevent my own kids from swimming in the lake on some days when we’re vacationing there.”
Despite Preheim’s love for the water, it wasn’t initially the focus of her career. But after a stint at Thailand’s Chiang Mai University investigating the potential link between potassium chlorate and human health, Preheim began to reassess her career path.
“I recall returning from Thailand [in 2001] without any plans and thinking that the coolest job in the world would be to become an oceanographer, so I could spend more time in and around the water,” she says.
Three months later, Preheim took a job in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, at the Marine Biological Laboratory, studying how Giardia lamblia, a common diarrhea-causing pathogen in drinking water, changes upon entering or leaving the body during infections. That experience solidified her career path, combining her passion for protecting the environment, her interest in clean water, and her background in molecular biology. Read more …