Hope College senior Austin Krehel of Lapeer won a third-place award for the research poster he presented on arsenic poisoning during MEDGEO 2013, the fifth international conference on medical geology, in August.

MEDGEO brings together researchers and decision makers from the physical sciences and the medical sciences who are interested in solving health problems caused by natural materials and processes.  Featuring the theme “The Natural Environment and Health:  Hidden Dangers, Unlimited Opportunities,” this year’s conference was held in Arlington, Va., on Sunday-Thursday, Aug. 25-29.

Krehel was recognized for his presentation “Organic Carbon and Arsenic Fractionation and Sorption Mechanisms within Groundwater Sediment Interface within West Bengal Aquifers,” which featured research he conducted this summer through an internship at Kansas State University.

“There were two main focuses of my research,” said Krehel, who is majoring in geology and minoring in environmental science at Hope.  “They both had to do with the arsenic poisoning calamity, which is a current problem in Bangladesh and India.”

“Part of my research was understanding how arsenic binds to and is released from organic carbon in groundwater sediment,” he said.  “We also looked at how the presence of iron and manganese affects the binding, or adsorption, to the organic carbon within the groundwater sediment.”

“The other part, which particularly had to do with this MEDGEO conference, was how arsenic bioaccumulates in rice grains,” he said.  “The major source of consumed arsenic is from the drinking water, and health affects from high arsenic consumption include cancers, arsenicosis, melanosis, keratosis, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as many other diseases and health issues.  Since rice is a staple food to these arsenic affected regions, the accumulation of arsenic into the rice is another source of consumed arsenic.”

Krehel conducted his research through from late May to late July mentored by Dr. Saugata Datta of the Kansas State University faculty.  He had become interested in the topic during the previous school year at Hope, while attending a session linking geologic and environmental process to human health during the national Geological Society of America meeting in November 2012.

His time at Kansas State University this summer followed other research experiences at Hope, including participating in a research project full-time for 10 weeks during the summer of 2012 with Hope geologists Dr. Edward Hansen and Dr. Brian Bodenbender and Dr. Brian Yurk of the mathematics faculty that focused on the change in shape of sand dunes.  He also worked with Hansen on a project analyzing the chemical and mineralogical changes between different rocks from Sweden to interpret the region’s history.

Krehel noted that his work in Kansas this past-summer was well-timed given his most recent coursework at Hope.

“It was nice to begin the research shortly after ending my junior year, since I could apply a lot of what I learned in geochemistry and mineralogy to my research,” he said.  “These were my most difficult, but also favorite and most helpful classes.”

Krehel, who intends to pursue graduate studies after graduating from Hope this coming May, also valued the additional insight his experience in Kansas this summer provided into what he might expect.

“I had the opportunity to work with numerous graduate students, which was a good eye-opener for the workload and more research-based work they have,” he said.