A Green Crime Fighter

Joel Meyer studies the health effects of pollution at the cellular level

Joel Meyer with the fern in his office which has been propagated from a plant that has been in the family at least from the time of his grandmother, and perhaps longer. Photo courtesy of Joel Meyer.
Joel Meyer with the fern in his office which has been propagated from a plant that has been in the family at least from the time of his grandmother, and perhaps longer. Photo courtesy of Joel Meyer.

Name: Joel Meyer

Title:  Assistant Professor of Environmental Toxicology, Nicholas School of the Environment

Years at Duke: 7 years as faculty member, nearly 6 as Ph.D. student

What I do at Duke: I teach environmental science courses to undergraduates and graduate students, and my lab investigates the health effects of pollution. We are looking particularly at the effects of environmental stressors at the molecular and cellular level with a special interest in mitochondrial and nuclear DNA damage. It is serious stuff, but we do it with humor - our lab website refers to us as "green crimefighters" and "a force for environmental justice."

How I got interested in environmental toxicology: After college, I wanted to learn Spanish so I went to Guatemala and explored a host of different jobs from being an international observer for refugees to teaching high school and coaching gymnastics. One job was in stove and latrine construction. The pollution-related health problems I saw as a result of people burning all sorts of stuff on open fires to cook their food inspired my interest in environmental toxicology.

 

To start a conversation with me, ask about: The relationship between science and belief. I think many people assume because I am a scientist, I am an atheist, which isn't true. Others who know that both of my parents were theologians assume that a spiritual perspective influences how I do my job, which is true. It is important for me that my job be not only intellectually stimulating, but also useful to others.

My dream job: I'm in it now.

What I love about Duke: I like the fact that interdisciplinary work is valued and that service to society, including global work, is encouraged. 

If I had $5 million, I would: Give half to a friend with an education project in Guatemala called Education and Hope. The other half I'd put toward scholarship money for schools in the U.S.

A memorable day at work: So far it has to be May 11, 2013, the day my first two Ph.D. students graduated. After the hooding ceremony, we walked down to Fullsteam with our Ph.D. regalia on. 

When I'm not at work I like to: Spend time with family, run, play volleyball, garden and read.

A recent book I've read:  "The Social Conquest of Earth" by biologist E. O. Wilson, who just announced that he will be teaching at Duke as part of a collaboration between the Nicholas School of the Environment and the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.  

Something unique in my office: I have a fern which has been propagated from a plant that has been in the family at least from the time of my grandma, and perhaps longer. It has been subdivided by my grandma, my mother, and now by me. 

Something most people don't know about me: I was a gymnast (pommel horse specialist) at Willowbrook High School in the suburbs of Chicago, and still do some gymnastics at my daughter's gym, Bull City Gymnastics.