Geochemistry for Sustainable Development: SEGH 2018, Olivier Humphrey

Sunset over Victoria Falls
In July 2018, scientists from across the globe met in Victoria Falls, Livingstone, Zambia for the Society for Environmental Geochemistry and Health (SEGH) 34th International Conference focussed on ‘Geochemistry for Sustainable Development’. The society aims to bring scientists from various disciplines to work together in understanding the interactions between the geochemical environment and the health of plants, animals, and humans.

During the conference, I presented some of my PhD research on ‘Iodine uptake, storage and translocation mechanisms in spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.)’. The aim of my PhD is to investigate iodine geodynamics and plant availability. Iodine is an essential micronutrient required for the production of thyroid hormones, which are critical for regulating energy metabolism, growth and brain function. Approximately 1.9 billion people are at risk of developing an iodine deficiency disorder (IDD). The most widely-used method for reducing IDD is dietary supplementation with iodised salt; however, poor salt treatment and food processing can reduce its effectiveness. As such, additional iodine delivery schemes are required; including iodine phytofortification. However, one of the underpinning issues associated with phytofortification is the general lack of understanding regarding plant iodine interactions. In my talk, I discussed a series of experiments I had conducted which aim to clarify the current misunderstandings within the literature. In addition to presenting my work at the conference I also co-chaired two sessions. This involved working with the chair, organising presenters and ensuring that they kept to the strict time schedule; even when the power did go out!

Group picture at the end of the epidemiology training course
As well as oral presentations and flash presentations/poster sessions a varied programme of training sessions were also available for delegates to attend including: how to use GIS, an introduction to R, and embedding ethics in geochemistry. For the morning training session I elected to attend the ‘reviewing manuscripts and getting published’ course by Professor Jane Entwistle, University of Northumbria. During the course we discussed the importance of reviewing our work, the processes involved in peer-review and the role of the reviewer. The aim of this course was to get both young and experienced researchers who are part of the society to start reviewing manuscripts submitted to the society’s journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health.

Between training courses there was an Early Career Researcher lunch offering a networking opportunity for young researchers to meet and mingle with other young researchers as well as seasoned scientists from the SEGH community. The aim of this lunch was to start an Early Career Researcher Group which will provide a mentorship programme within the SEGH. Check out the SEGH website for more information coming soon.

During the afternoon training session I decided to attend the: ‘epidemiologic study design and interpretation- with application to cancer, health and the environment’ course run by Dr Joachim Schuz and Dr Valerie McCormack from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC-WHO). We were introduced to two study designs: cohort and case-control, commonly used in the field of epidemiology. This training course consisted of a taught lecture to introduce us to the science of epidemiology before we were given the task of designing our own case-control study in a simulated scenario in which a mine site was thought to be causing liver cancer. At the end of the course we presented our designs to the group. The course provided a fantastic opportunity to gain a valuable insight into how epidemiological studies are conducted.

Overall, the conference was very successful! It was great to share my research with the wider scientific community and engage in some wonderful training courses. I look forward to being more involved with the SEGH early career research group in the future.

The PhD is supervised under the umbrella of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry: Dr Scott Young, Dr Liz Bailey and Professor Neil Crout (University of Nottingham) and Dr Louise Ander and Dr Michael Watts (BGS).