On November 12, Log Lunch welcomed Kris Hansen ‘91, an atmospheric chemist, proud Williams alum, and parent of Siri Bohacek ‘22. As a former Environmental Studies student at the College, Hansen remains connected to the program: her post-Williams research at the University of Colorado and NOAA can be found in ENVI 102 syllabi. In a presentation animated by beautiful photos taken by her son, Carl Bohcek, Hansen reflected on guiding principles for tracking environmental compounds — many of which are broadly applicable to scientific inquiry.
Hansen titled her presentation “Finding Luna: Tips for Tracking Compounds in the Environment,” and began with a thought experiment based on her dog, Luna. “If I asked you to look for Luna at a dog park,” Hansen asked, “would you start by just calling her name?” She explained that there are quite a few dogs out there named Luna, and Luna rarely responds to her name after all. In fact, chances are, Luna would only come to you if you had cheese, were not a bearded man, and happened to differentiate her from all the other cheese-loving dogs. Hansen’s point was that a cornerstone of environmental tracking is knowing just how much there is that you don’t know.
“The environment,” Hansen said, “is complex, dynamic, and uncontrolled,” quite unlike a laboratory. She explained how researchers need to be flexible and agile, looking for variables that are not obvious at first glance. She continued to discuss her thesis project at Williams, which focused on measuring PCBs in the Hoosic River. Hansen was curious why PCBs remained decades after Sprague Energy in North Adams stopped depositing them into the river. After finding little information studying sediment in the Hoosic, Hansen pivoted, instead studying PCB levels in crayfish in the river.
She emphasized that through flexibility, researchers are able to respond to the ever-changing environment, allowing them to reach conclusions that may have been previously hard to even imagine. Hansen explored more stories in which both she and other researchers were brave enough to explore new avenues, encouraging
the Log Lunch community to “be comfortable with uncertainty.” She urged future researchers to be humble, recognizing that without collaboration, research is more challenging and substantially less rewarding.
The lunch entree served this week was fresh flatbreads, accompanied by butternut squash dip and spiced chickpeas with bell peppers and roasted lemon. A lemon-garlic-kale salad with dates and almonds was additionally served, and the dessert was chocolate chunk pumpkin seed cookies.
BY SARAH JANE O’CONNOR ’22