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Portrait of Clearing the Air

Doctoral student Nathalie Pham’s research might help us all breathe a little easier.

Have you ever thought about what you breathe into your lungs every single day? Nathalie Pham certainly has.

Pham is conducting her Ph.D. research on an air pollutant called naphthalene, which is present in such things as cigarette smoke, combustion engine exhaust, jet fuel, mothballs and even toilet bowl deodorants.

Understanding the toxicity and potential cancer-causing properties of this air pollutant is vital to human health, according to Pham, especially because the National Toxicology Program has listed it as a potential carcinogen in humans.

“By gaining a better understanding of the potential carcinogenicity and toxicity of naphthalene in humans, it will profoundly impact the regulation of this chemical in fuel and cigarettes,” Pham said. “This has the potential to impact everyone from kids and their exposure to it in indoor settings to military and aircraft personnel and their exposure to it while working on planes.”

For her research, Pham received the Floyd and Mary Schwall Fellowship and a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences fellowship. Pham said the contributions are encouraging because it means other people are also interested in her research and the questions it might answer.

“Fellowships greatly increase the meaningfulness of my pursuit,” said Pham. “The opportunity of graduate school alone is pretty remarkable. To have also received fellowships based on my work and my capabilities is a considerable blessing.”