Honors Research Day 2020: Troy Handlovic

Please introduce yourself.

“My name is Troy Handlovic, and I am a senior chemistry student and undergraduate research assistant in the Elshaer Research Group, within the department of chemistry, biochemistry and physics at FDU’s Florham Campus.”

What is the title of your project? What is it all about?

“The title of my honors thesis is ‘Analysis of Estrogenic Hormones using Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry.’ This work is in the field of analytical chemistry and revolves around the development and validation of a method to extract and quantify (SPE-GC-MS(SIM)) estrogens from wastewater at the ultra-trace level.”

Why did you choose to pursue this research? Why does it matter to you and why should it matter to others?

“This study, like many others, started from a top-down approach where my mentors and I were interested in answering a certain question: ‘What was the unknown concentration of estrogens in wastewater effluent of northern New Jersey?’ To do this, we had to develop a way to answer that question from the bottom up. The results from this study are critical since we know that the estrogenic hormones are dangerous to vertebrates and invertebrates, but we do not know if the concentration of estrogens in the rivers by wastewater treatment plants are high enough to pose a danger. Although organism response to compound dose is a complicated toxicological study, the old paradigm ‘the dose makes the poison’ sums up this work well. We need to know the dose in order to see if these estrogens are a ‘poison’ in NJ’s aquatic ecosystems.”

What has the experience of completing your thesis been like? 

My undergraduate research experience has been wonderful and is truly the highlight of my academic career so far. I started off at FDU on a premedical track as a biology major, and shortly realized that I did not truly want to pursue that career. During my sophomore year, I had the honor of taking a class with Professor James Salierno, where I was introduced to the field of environmental science. I have always loved the outdoors, and after a few weeks in the class I realized I wanted to work in his lab. Several months later, that dream became a reality, and then I started the project under Professor Salierno. As the initial phases of the project started to roll out, Dr. Salierno and I realized we needed chemical consultation to help answer our question. Dr. Salierno reached out to Dr. Mohammed Elshaer of the department of chemistry and pharmaceutical science, and he happily offered to help us. As time went on, I realized that I loved chemical research. So, I started researching exclusively in chemistry under Dr. Elshaer. By the start of my senior year, I was officially a chemistry major and a member of Dr. Elshaer’s group. My thesis experience has been so helpful guiding me to the field that I am passionate about. I think inquiry-based scientific discovery is the best way to learn, and am so fortunate that the Honors program has allowed me to work under two great scientists in such a collaborative fashion these last two years.”

How do you feel that the Honors program has benefited you during your FDU career, as well as moving forward? Why should new students consider joining the program?

“As I mentioned above, scientific discovery is an extremely powerful learning tool. Although my classes have taught me so much and have prepared me for lab work, the amount that I have learned in the lab by conducting independent research is far superior. The Honors Program provided me a platform to conduct and present this independent research, which has taught me to think, talk and write like a scientist. It is these skills that have prepared me for chemistry graduate studies. I highly recommend the Honors Program to all interested students, especially those in the sciences.”

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