SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
12 December 2013
Volume 14 Issue 12

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John Giesy Presented SETAC Global Partners' Capacity-Building Award

SETAC Awards Committee

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John Giesy talking with a fisherman on the Yellow River, China.

John P. Giesy received the SETAC Global Partners' Capacity-Building Award at the SETAC North America 34th Annual Meeting. This is a global SETAC award that recognizes individuals or groups for their contribution toward building capacity in the environmental sciences within countries with developing economies. Emphasis is given to promoting the advancement and application of scientific research related to contaminants and other stressors in the environment, education in the environmental sciences, and the use of science in environmental policy and decision-making.  Giesy has worked closely with universities in China, acknowledging the environmental challenges that come with rapid economic growth. He has served as co-investigator, co-author, mentor and supervisor to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at universities, and advisor on policy issues related to the environment. His work with researchers at the State Key Laboratory of Environmental Criteria and Risk Assessment has contributed to the development of water quality criteria and standards across China and criteria for protecting wild birds. His collaborations at Peking University’s College of Urban and Environmental Sciences have resulted in a project investigating the release of dioxins into the air around municipal waste incinerators, and papers describing research that identifies the cause of malformation in sturgeon from the Yangtze River.  When asked why a Canada Research Chair, appointed by the prime minister of Canada, should spend so much time working in China, Giesy responded, “simply because I can have more impact on the environment of Canada, especially in the Arctic by working in China than in Canada.”

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John Giesy at Peking University in Beijing, China

Indicative of his collaborative approach, Giesy humbly responded, “I appreciate the recognition, but it truly is for a large group of colleagues all around the world.  In particular, relative to this distinction, I am blessed with excellent colleagues in China.  It is gratifying to help people who are truly appreciative and to work on issues that make a difference in the lives of people.  I never set about to go to China to teach them anything.  The relationship has just evolved and in the process while I am sure that they have learned from me and I have been able to facilitate various interactions and opportunities, it is I who have learned the most.  The colleagues I have the honor with whom to work are intelligent, creative and diligent, but most importantly caring and kind.  The people of China have a lot to offer the world and they want to take a leadership role.  If I have helped in fostering that eventuality, then I am happy.” Giesy would like to specifically acknowledge colleagues at his home university and the following institutions in China with whom he shares this recognition.

Hong Kong, SAR, China

  • Department of Biology and Chemistry, State Key Laboratory in Marine Pollution, City University of Hong Kong
  • School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong Baptist University

People’s Republic of China:

  • Research Center for Eco-environmental Sciences (RCEES), Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing
  • State Key Laboratory of Environmental Criteria and Risk Assessment, Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES), Beijing
  • School of Environment, Nanjing University, Nanjing
  • College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing
  • Marine Environmental laboratory, Xiamen University, Xiamen
  • Tianjin Key Laboratory of Environmental Remediation and Pollution Control, College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Nankai University, Tianjin
  • Institute of Loess Plateau, Shanxi University, Taiyuan, Shanxi

For the last 25 years, Giesy has worked with colleagues and institutions in Asia to build capacity in the region in the area of environmental sciences.  When asked how it all started, Giesy responded, “it was due to another SETACer and close friend, Keith Solomon, that these opportunities came to me.  Keith had been teaching a short course in Hong Kong and when he could not attend one year, he suggested me as a substitute.  One thing led to another, I liked them and they liked me and eventually I was asked to give some keynote addresses and then in 2003 I lived in Hong Kong for a year.  Since retiring from Michigan State University (MSU) in 2006, I have lived 3 months of every year in Hong Kong and spend an additional 2 months a year in mainland China.”

For the last 10 years he has lived part of the year in Hong Kong, where he is a visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong (2006-2013) and distinguished visiting professor at City University of Hong Kong (2003-2013).  He also works closely with colleagues at Baptist University of Hong Kong.  In 2003 he lived the entire year in Hong Kong.  For the last 6 years he has been a co-investigator on an Area of Excellence Grant of more than 12,000,000 USD and worked with all six universities in Hong Kong.  He was instrumental in starting the State Key Laboratory in Marine Pollution and currently serves on the Board of Directors.  He serves as an advisor to students, post docs from China, and has visiting scientists come from China to Canada.  In 2006, when he took the position of Canada Research Chair in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Saskatchewan, his appointment included a provision to spend part of his time in China.  He subsequently has been appointed the University of Saskatchewan “Ambassador to China.” In this role he facilitates collaborations and exchanges of students, post docs and faculty between the University of Saskatchewan and institutions in China. He has successfully attained research funding to facilitate cooperations not only between the University of Saskatchewan and institutions in China, but for colleagues at Baylor, University of Michigan and Texas A&M.

In 2003 Giesy was appointed by the US National Academy of Science to be the US Chairperson of the Committee on Strengthening Science-based Decision-making on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in China to help implement agreements made when the USA and China signed a most favored trading partner agreement.  Giesy believes that as goes China so goes the world.  The tremendous economic growth of China is a major challenge for the environment, not only for China, but for the global community. Rapid economic development has resulted in significant effects on the environment due to mining, agricultural and industrial activities.

Giesy has developed a number of contacts in government and at universities and developed a strong reputation as an educator and advisor at the local, provincial and national levels in China.  He also works with students and post docs at many universities in China.  He is a visiting professor in the Marine Science Program at Xiamen University (2008-2013) and a concurrent professor in the State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control and Resource Reuse, School of the Environment, Nanjing University (2003-2013).  He also has active collaborations with colleagues at other universities including, Shanto, Shanxi, Nankai, Peking, and Sen Yat Sun.  He visits each of these universities at least once per year and gives seminars, mentors students and teaches short courses.  He helps colleagues develop and write proposals and has had 15 proposals funded for a total of 12,095,187 USD since 2007. He teaches an annual short course in environmental science that is attended by 100 students from all over Asia. He has mentored a total of 49 M.S. and Ph.D. students in universities in China. Many of these students have then gone to MSU or University of Saskatchewan to continue their careers as M.S. or Ph.D. students or post docs. He has had a total of 13 post docs and 10 visiting scientists from China.

Giesy helps his colleagues and students develop the skills necessary to publish in top quality journals such as Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C), Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), Environmental Health Perspectives, Water Research, Toxicological Sciences and many more. Since 1999, he has co-authored a total of 216 published papers with his colleagues from Hong Kong and China. In 2012 one of the papers he authored with colleagues in China was selected as the 2nd runner up best paper out of 1,640 published last year in ES&T.

In addition to his activities in education and training through his affiliation with universities, Giesy also works closely with the research establishment in China such as the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) where he works with the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences (RCEES) in Beijing, the State Key Laboratory for Geochemistry in Guangzhou, and the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES) in Beijing, the State Key Laboratory of Environmental Criteria and Risk Assessment and the State Environmental Protection Key Laboratory for Lake Pollution Control. He advises agencies in China on environmental issues at the national and provincial levels and is well known and held in high esteem. He co-wrote the water quality criteria (WQC) for Hong Kong and is now actively involved in writing WQC for China. For the past 10 years he has been an advisor to the Jiangsu Province Environmental Monitoring Agency.

For his efforts in China, in 2009 Giesy was elected an Einstein Professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is the highest honor given by China to non-Chinese scientists. In 2012 he was recognized by the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) and the Zhongyu Environmental Technologies Corp. with the SCOPE-Zhongyu Environmental Sciences Life Achievements Award, which recognizes “a scientist/s or expert/s whose significant contributions have moved the frontiers of environmental science and technological innovation and environmental engineering.” In 2012 he was selected for the High Tier Foreign Expert Program by the Ministry of Education, China. This program pays for him to advise universities across China.

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