Montana State University

Microbiology Student's Research is a Breath of Fresh Air

October 5, 2009 -- By Alexis Wainwright, MSU student

College Office

Hikers, joggers, mountain bikers, sportsman and skiers - we all breathe it. The invigorating fresh air of the Rockies is something most Gallatin Valley residents take for granted in their day-to-day lives. MSU microbiology student, Chelsea Sheffield, however, saw her environmental science class as an opportunity to examine air quality around the valley in light of its effects on the health of many Bozemanites.

Small air particles, particularly those under 2.5 micrometers (µm), can present a variety of respiratory risks. These particles are minute enough to penetrate the lung, contributing to asthma, chronic bronchitis and other related health problems. Sheffield, together with Kelsy Broadaway, now an epidemiology graduate student, took air quality samples from various areas in the Gallatin Valley in order to assess the potential for human health impacts. The students traveled from site to site, hitting on areas of high influence to Gallatin residents such as schools, gravel pits and congested intersections. Using sophisticated instruments like the TSI DustTrak 8520 and P-Trak 8525 to detect potentially hazardous dust particles of 10 µm, 2.5 µm, and under 1.0 µm, Sheffield undertook an extensive research project to test and tabulate air quality findings over the course of two months. The verdict? Air quality in the Gallatin Valley is as pure as it tastes, with some slight deviations towards higher concentrations of particles during fire season.
“It is always a pleasure to work with Chelsea since she is such an independent worker and she is motivated to create an excellent product,” said Susan Broadaway, Sheffield’s microbiology advisor. “Additionally, there was a lot of interest in the results of the project in our community, and Chelsea was always willing to present the information not only at several meetings with the Gallatin Valley Health Board but also other presentations both on campus and across the state.”           

Sheffield considers her undergraduate research experiences to have been some of the most rewarding aspects of her student career at MSU. She seeks to make a tangible difference in the community. “People never really think about how dramatically the air they breathe affects their everyday lives,” Sheffield said. The good news is that with Sheffield’s findings, Bozemanites can breathe a little easier knowing air quality in the valley is up to standard.

Her future plans include a yearlong clinical laboratory science training program and pursuing work as a medical laboratory scientist.
Alexis Wainwright is a sophomore majoring in ecology in the fish and wildlife management option. In her free time she enjoys writing, hiking and hanging out with her pet sugar glider, Feverstone.

Updated: 04/15/2011