SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
13 February 2014
Volume 15 Issue 2

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Sam Luoma Wins SETAC Founders Award

David Buchwalter, North Carolina State University and Phil Rainbow

Listen to the Founder's Award presentation and lecture during the opening ceremony of the SETAC North America 34th Annual Meeting in Nashville.

Scientific achievements are often expressed in terms that attempt to encapsulate a scientific career (numbers of publications, books, citations, etc.).  The career of the 2013 SETAC Founders Award Winner, Sam Luoma, is certainly impressive by any of these common measures of achievement, but somehow these measures fail to do justice to Luoma’s contributions to science and society. In particular, these measures fail to describe the breadth and depth of Luoma’s vision, creativity and refusal to confine his thinking to traditional scientific disciplinary approaches. In his work with trace metals, for example, Luoma has displayed the uncanny ability to incorporate and merge detailed processes from the biogeochemical level as they relate to bioavailability of metals from sediments and water, physiological and ecological processes of organisms related to their exposure to and bioaccumulation of metals, and ecosystem level processes related to metal transport and fluxes through ecosystems.

Luoma is one of the world’s scientific leaders in the research field of trace metal biology and ecotoxicology in aquatic environments. He has been a pioneer in the development and application of new approaches and techniques, typified by his leadership in the application of biodynamic modeling to metal bioaccumulation in the real world, and its recent extension to the study of the potential ecotoxicology of metal-rich nanoparticles. Luoma has gone on to promote the communication of the use of such approaches to the scientific world including and beyond the academic community.

Luoma is regularly asked to play a leading role at international scientific meetings, on scientific and government panels, and as a scientific mentor and collaborator. The research problems that he addresses center on the fate, bioavailability and ecological effects of trace element pollutants in aquatic environments, whether delivered by classical contamination routes or now entering aquatic environments in nanoparticle form. These require the application and interconnection of long-term field studies and laboratory experiments, using modern methods such as stable isotope techniques. Luoma is particularly aware of the need to understand the biology of organisms in contact with trace metals in their environment; not all metal ecotoxicology can be explained by chemical principles alone. Luoma’s approach is a truly multidisciplinary, requiring a knowledge and understanding of geochemistry, geology, ecology, whole organism biology and ecophysiology. The necessity for the possession and application of such multidisciplinary expertise using lateral thinking exemplifies the difficulty of the research problems addressed.

Had Luoma stopped there, he still would be considered a giant among us. But he didn’t. Sam has also thought deeply about the sociological processes that translate science to the regulatory arena, and experienced triumphs and challenges in the capacity of re-imagining water resource management in California and elsewhere. As Luoma continues to blaze new trails in his studies of trace metals and nanomaterials, he grows his legacy via powerful collaborations and by inspiring and promoting the careers of trainers (and their trainees). Through it all, Luoma has showed us how science should be fun, inclusive and borderless.

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