“When you are the master of your craft, when you are secure in your knowledge, secure in your competence, then you will reap the benefit of being able to contribute. Science is a very difficult and demanding discipline and it could get very frustrating unless you are totally committed, unless you are totally committed to your craft, and knowing your field. And so eventually what’s going to happen if you are really excellent at what you do, you are going to be able to contribute in ways that will bring fulfilment. So give it your all, when you are awesome at what you do, then your contribution will make the sacrifice worth it.” – Dr Fox
UG Lecturer and Chemistry Researcher, Dr Dawn Fox has a desire to “clean dirty water” which led her to create long-term, sustainable solutions. Through her research, she focuses on converting waste into materials that can solve environmental and public health issues, using local materials to improve water quality at the household level for vulnerable communities and for emergencies like floods, storms and hurricanes.
Dr. Fox uses microscopy and spectroscopy to create materials for improving water quality. She has developed aqueous phase sorbents (solid materials to remove contaminants from water) using a variety of materials local to Guyana, including waste sawdust, coconut shells, and rice husks. She has also worked on composite building materials, substituting chipped waste plastic for sand in concrete mixtures. She is currently developing a household water treatment filter made entirely from recycled and locally available materials.
In 2018, Dr. Fox was recognized for her research in water remediation at the the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where she and four colleagues were awarded the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Women Scientists in the Developing World.
“Don’t be afraid of failure”
As a scientist, Dawn has also been inspired by failure on the personal level.
“One of the life lessons I’ve learned on this journey is not to be afraid of failure,” she said. “And in fact, it’s a part of the scientific method.
“If you have a hypothesis and you test it and it doesn’t work out, you change things and you go again. And we learn a lot more from failure than from an outright success because we study failure more.”
She recalls an experiment she was doing in her water remediation work. She expected the compound she chose to work in a certain way, and when it didn’t, she tried many variations of the experiment over the course of the year. Still, it didn’t not work out the way she had hoped.
It was tempting to give up, but she pressed forward, seeking the advice of a colleague. She ended up changing her hypothesis and the way she was looking at the experiment, which led her to find a compound that did work.
“What I realized was that the science was trying to tell me the truth,” she said. “I had to be open to failure to realize that and redirect my course to find the truth.”