Coffee With A Co-Worker: Debbie Armstrong
Situations in life can sometimes build upon each other to help one find their passion of a career. Always interested in Science, Debbie started the Pre-Med track to become a Dentist. It was during the first couple of years that she realized that she really liked chemistry, and she was good at it. “I loved being able to synthesize organic compounds and identify the structure using NMR, Mass Spectrometry and Infrared Spectroscopy”. This led to a shift in her career path, and she obtained both her Bachelor of Science and her Master’s in Chemistry.
How did she land at CEOS? “Through a long list of jobs that built on each other,” she says. Debbie began research with a summer position in a pituitary lab focusing on regulating thyroid hormones. The following summer she worked at DFO where she found herself busy sampling water, dust and soil in a farmer’s field in Miami Manitoba, testing for the environmental fate of applied pesticide and herbicides in the local environment. This was the beginning of the path leading to CEOS. Her journey along the way took her to other programs such as genome mapping of barley for hops, and DNA paternity testing, but in 2001 she found herself back at DFO to analyze organic contaminants in fish, water and air samples. In 2006 she joined Dr. Wang’s team and the rest is history.
Like her favorite SuperHero, Debbie still does a little bit of everything. On the 5th floor of Wallace, you can often find her answering technical questions, working on new methods, ensuring Lab Safety and Health protocols are in place, writing papers to publish and teaching Environmental Chemistry at the UofM. Loving research, field work, and trying to solve problems while finding answers (and more questions), Debbie says she is now living the dream and that she truly has the best job. Anyone who knows her can easily validate that statement as she is always at work with an enthusiastic smile on her face.
What do you do at CEOS?
I am the Lab Manager for the UCTEL (Ultra Clean Trace Element Laboratory). My responsibilities include the operations of the UCTEL lab, analysis of samples, instrument maintenance, operating and sampling procedures, as well as training of new students and staff. I am involved with the planning of field programs, developing sampling protocols, sample collection and the maintenance and packing of equipment for the field. I am also the WHMIS coordinator for the Department of E&G, a member of the Faculty LASH (Local Area Safety and Health) committee, and I am the course instructor for Environmental Chemistry.
What’s the focus of your research?
Our research focuses on trace elements, mercury speciation and major ions in terms of anions.
Favorite subject when you were in school?
Math, I liked getting the correct answers.
If you could be a SuperHero, what SuperHero would you be?
Elastigirl. She’s always doing so many things at once. Holding a baby, fighting off the bad guys, cooking dinner. That’s what I do. (laughs)
What puts a smile on your face?
Kids playing in the snow.
Place you’d like to visit and why.
Anywhere in Iceland
Something you do better than anyone else (or most people) you know:
I’m a crazy multi-tasker. Also, most people know where I always am. I have a loud voice.
Something you appreciate or admire in another person:
I really like people who remain patient and calm.
Coffee or tea?
Pretzels with hummus.
That’s hard to say. Right now I’m living the dream. I have had so many opportunities to try things out and I am really happy where I have landed.
Favorite TV show:
Father Brown. It’s a really good mystery show.
One thing not too many people may know about you:
That I have had so many different jobs before I worked at CEOS. And that sometimes I do whisper.
Advice to students:
Do the things you want to do now. You have to love what you do.