University of Otago, New Zealand


Te Tari Hua-Ruanuku

A PhD at opposite ends of the earth

Tuesday 31 March 2015

With her Chemistry PhD submitted and a ‘post-doc’ job lined-up in the USA, Cleo Davie-Martin is aware she owes much to Otago – not least the memories of her Alaskan field work.


After achieving a University of Otago First Class Honours degree in Chemistry and discovering a love for research, Cleo leapt straight into a PhD, working within Dr Kimberly J. Hageman’s “wonderful” Environmental Chemistry research group.

Cleo says, “I study the distribution of organic contaminants. First, I modelled what percentage of pesticides applied to a field would evaporate under certain conditions.

“Then in the lab I looked at the distribution of pesticides between the soil and the air. Pesticides drifting off site can cause problems and we want to be able to predict and regulate their use before we start applying them in tonnes. That was the driver for that side of my project.”

With funding from the US National Science Foundation and contacts provided by her co-supervisor Professor Yu-Ping Chin of The Ohio State University, Cleo travelled to Toolik Field Station within the Arctic Circle, nine hours drive from Fairbanks city.

“It was by far the highlight of my PhD,” Cleo says, “I was there for two and a half months collecting air and water samples and sending them to New Zealand where I would extract the flame retardants to see what I had and in what concentrations.

The Otago Post: issue 19