Artboard 1 apply Artboard 1 copy 2 Mount_Logo_Primary_RGB Mount_Logo_Primary_RGB give Artboard 1 copy 3 info link Mount_Logo_Primary_RGB Artboard 1 Artboard 2 Artboard 1 visit

Professor Mike Turner to Present Ducharme Lecture on Wastewater Testing for COVID-19

Rebecca McDermott
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts

turner feature

As students moved into their residence halls in Fall 2020, they began COVID-19 protocols that soon became regular habits in every Mountie’s life: hand washing, mask wearing, social distancing and participation in surveillance testing for the virus. In addition to these risk reduction measures, the university also implemented a lesser-known and highly effective tool to help keep students on campus: testing of the Mount’s wastewater for coronavirus markers.

mike-turner.jpgOn March 10 Associate Professor of Biochemistry Michael Turner, Ph.D., will increase awareness about wastewater testing as he presents the Spring 2021 Ducharme Lecture on “Testing the Waters: Containing COVID at Mount St. Mary’s.”  The lecture will be in a reduced capacity Knott Auditorium at 4 p.m. and also will be livestreamed.

As the Mount began its four months of planning and implementation for the Fall 2020 semester, President Timothy E. Trainor, Ph.D., established the Mount Safe Initiative with multiple planning teams charged with ensuring student success and keeping the Mount community healthy.  Turner served on the  COVID-19 Response Team, headed by Vice President for Student Life Bernard Franklin, Ph.D. The group discussed how to bring students and faculty back to campus safely, how to handle outbreaks and how to make sure everyone followed effective protocols. “It was in the discussion of these groups that the idea of wastewater treatment first came about,” Turner said.  William “Will” Wood, the Mount’s environmental health and safety officer and a laboratory manager in the Science Department, suggested that this testing approach be attempted as part of the university’s strategy for surveillance testing.  As a result, starting in August, every week a group of people, including Wood and Turner, handled the logistics of collecting and analyzing the wastewater samples.

“Dr. Turner and Mr. Wood spent countless hours working to make application of this methodology a reality for us,” said Interim Dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics, Christine McCauslin, Ph.D. “Their behind-the-scenes efforts have resulted in significantly improving the safety and well-being of our entire community.”

Essentially, wastewater testing allowed experts to detect potential COVID-19 outbreaks in residence halls. When the water samples found evidence of the disease in specific living spaces, students living there were immediately tested. Those testing positive were quickly quarantined or sent home, allowing the university to catch infections early and prevent outbreaks on campus.

During the Ducharme Lecture, Turner will explain how testing the wastewater is imperative to keeping the community safe. “We’ll go through the methodology and process, the treatment of samples, how they’re kept, and what has to be done with them before they’re analyzed,” Turner explained. Audience members can also expect to see data charts that were collected over the course of last semester to illustrate why certain decisions were made.

Turner hopes the audience will go home feeling a sense of gratitude for the diligence and foresight of the university administration and others, as they worked to keep the Mount open and safe. He believes the Mount went above and beyond to keep the community “almost like a sterile bubble.”  Many universities across the country didn’t open; others did with safety measures in place, but Turner believes that few approached the Mount’s ability to contain the pandemic while staying open.

Additionally, Turner wants people to understand the science behind the outbreak.  By the end of his lecture, Turner anticipates that the audience will have a more informed outlook on why the Mount has taken the measures it did to keep operations running. “I am not an all-knowing expert,” he explained. “But the science side of things is something I can articulate clearly to people who don’t have that background.” Turner’s lecture will also help audience members make informed decisions about issues such as quarantining and vaccination. 

Dr. Turner began teaching in the Science Department at the Mount in 2013.  He teaches courses in genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology and molecular genetics.  His primary area of research is the regulation of gene expression.

The Ducharme Lecture series was generously established by Raphael Della Ratta, C'92.

Rebecca McDermott
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts