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The University of Mississippi

R&D Chemist Encourages Students to Safeguard the Environment

Posted on: July 23rd, 2015 by enparson

Cammi Thornton

July 23, 2015

As a senior research and development chemist and environmental toxicology enthusiast, Cammi Thornton studies the effects that contaminants have on our environment and works to improve them.

The nine-year School of Pharmacy employee has a Bachelor of Science in forensic chemistry from the University of Mississippi. An Introduction to Toxicology class taught by Kristie Willett, professor of pharmacology, grabbed Thornton’s attention and motivated her to pursue work in environmental toxicology. As luck would have it, Willett was hiring the year Thornton graduated. Thornton landed the job and has been with the school since.

Q: What is environmental toxicology and why is it important?

A: Environmental toxicology simply means that we study some of the different contaminants that are released into the environment and how they affect wildlife and us. This is extremely important because we are potentially exposed to so many different chemicals daily, and many times the risk of these exposures is unknown.

Q: Can you tell us about your research focus? What specific projects have you worked on?

A: My primary focus is determining how benzo[a]pyrene is toxic (it is a known carcinogen, developmental and reproductive toxicant, but its mechanism[s] of action is unknown). Benzo[a]pyrene is found in cigarette smoke, car exhaust and charred food, so it is everywhere in the environment and sometimes hard to limit exposure. Ultimately, our goal is to determine if there are ways to minimize the effects caused by benzo[a]pyrene with vitamins or other natural products.

Another project that I have worked on studied the effects of nanosilver on fish gills. Nanosilver is currently being used in many applications (washing machines, socks, baby items, Band-Aids, etc.) due to its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Bulk silver is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms, so we are trying to determine if nanosilver has similar toxicities as bulk silver and/or if its use should be limited.

Q: What has been the most satisfying thing about working in this field?

A: I have helped several graduate students on their journey through graduate school and, in that manner, have helped to train more scientists to help improve our environment.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: I love to spend time with my family. I am a new mom to a 9-month-old girl, Ellie, so I try to spend as much time as possible with her and my husband. We love swimming.