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Daniel Stanaway

"I truly believe we can leave our world in a much better state than how we inherited it."


Considering that 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered in water, Daniel Stanaway is a global game-changer. His research on water quality is so important that the Environmental Protection Agency has awarded Stanaway a rare two-year fellowship at Boise State sustain his work. The EPA's Science to Achieve Results program receives thousands of submissions annually and only a handful are selected.

Stanaway wanted to pursue his graduate work at Boise State, but moving away from his home state of Michigan was a challenge, scholastically and personally.

One of your two brothers is your twin?

Brett and I are identical twins. I often think that being a twin is one of the greatest blessings in my life because there is somebody out there that understands me completely. It's an emotional and intellectual identification.

Was there a stage of your life when you tried to rebel being a twin?

You bet. We had always been identified as "the twins." When I was in ninth grade, I shaved my head so there'd be a very distinct difference between us. I kept it that way for years.

Did you have difficulty moving away?

Moving here two years ago was the first time that we had ever been more than a couple of hours apart. The twin thing is a complicated matter. I have two people that are extremely close to me. Even though I've known my wife Margaret for seven years, and we've been married for two, it's still a short period of time compared to the 29 years I've been a twin with Brett.

Where did you meet your wife?

When we were undergraduates at Michigan State. She's a nurse in the cardiac unit at St. Luke's.

So how did you get word of the fellowship?

I got a phone call from a 202 area code [Washington, D.C.], which I didn't recognize. I had no idea who that could have been, and I usually let those calls go to voicemail but for some reason I answered. The guy said, "This is Brandon Jones from the EPA. I'd like to talk to you about your fellowship." That was a really good day.

Is there a price tag on the fellowship?

It's for $74,000 for two years.

Obviously that triggers your work, but does that also allow you to exhale financially?

Absolutely. A lot of scientists and engineers get their work paid for. But my project is a bit unique in that I'm the first person at Boise State to take a hydrological curriculum and apply it to a larger biological sense. I had to apply for a lot of sources of money. The EPA fellowship was the largest amount available but had the greatest amount of uncertainty. The irony was that those that I thought were certain, never panned out.

Most of your research has been around the Clark Fork River [which runs 310 miles between Montana and Idaho]. What's the state of the river in 2010?

There's been a good amount of remediation work done, but the river is still dramatically impacted by the countless copper and silver mines that lined the shores through much of the 20th century. As a way to imagine the magnitude of the amount of copper taken out of that area, you could have paved a road from Butte, Mont., to Salt Lake City--a four-lane highway, four inches thick, made completely of copper.

Our studies are examining the impact of the metals that were put into that watershed: arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and zinc.

How might your work impact our lives?

What we want to do with this work is develop a tool that we could use for earlier detection to an ecosystem that may have been compromised by metals or sedimentation.

Should we be worried about the state of our rivers?

From the time of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the state of our nation's rivers have improved dramatically.

But more than 60 percent of the world's great rivers are in peril. Aquatic species face a greater rate of extinction than any other species.

We have an ever-increasing emphasis on our rivers and the general quality of our environment. The science that can fix generational problems is growing more precise and allowing us to do many more innovative things. I truly believe we can leave our world in a much better state than how we inherited it.