Environmental Science honours student
As a child wildly passionate about the environment, it was clear Madison Roberts would contribute to a better world ever since signing up to be a Conservation and Land Management cadet.
The UWA honours student is now working towards creating a cleaner, greener planet with a focus on contamination.
“I’ve always had a passion for the environment and its protection, but thought my passions lay in the biotic realm. I wanted to dedicate my time to the conservation of species, until I took a unit which dealt with the detection of contaminants in soil, sediment and street dust. It ended up being one of my favourite units and a defining factor for my future career.”
As part of this unit, Madison collected and analysed soil, sediments, street dust and water samples from around Perth and wrote a report, choosing to write on heavy metal contamination derived from traffic at a recreational park.
After submitting the report for the Australian Contaminated Land Consultants Association Paul Turner Scholarship, Madison was awarded joint winner; an accolade that led to her being offered an internship with a globally recognised consultancy company in their contamination and remediation service group.
“Everybody loves breathing clean air, dipping their feet in fresh water and hanging out with friends at their local park or beach. Sadly, wherever people go, we seem to contaminate the land. We might not do it on purpose but it extends from the cars we drive and detergents we use, through to our sewerage and landfill waste.”
Madison said the time she spent working for the contamination consultants put things into perspective. She decided her efforts would be better spent ensuring species had a clean environment to live in.
“I realised, though, that a lot of the technologies available to remediate contaminated areas were quite destructive in themselves or expensive. I noticed a lot of soil remediation strategies involved the physical removal of soil from the site. This destroys soil profiles which can take thousands of years to form and can be important for soil biology and plant growth.”
Madison came across a technique known as ‘phytoextraction’ which appears to be less destructive but is still not a standard technology used in Australia. This process uses plants to extract heavy metals from soil into their plant tissue. The plants are then harvested at the surface of the soil and the soil profile is left mostly intact.
Pursuing her impossible means Madison is studying something that hasn't been studied before and, like most other postgraduate students, she is contributing new information to the literature base. Madison is currently using a species of coastal succulent in an attempt to extract zinc from zinc contaminated soils.
“Pollution is one of the biggest anthropogenic issues of our time. Nowadays, the impacts anthropogenic activities are having on the world are being recognised. It’s a special time to live in and I love being part of a movement which aims to make the world a cleaner, greener and healthier place to live.”
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