Dr Sharon Hook was born in Pittsburgh (USA), where her life-long interest in pollution began after witnessing the impact of groundwater contamination following the closure of steel mills. She has a B.A. in Biological Sciences from Smith College (MA, USA) and a Ph.D. in Coastal Oceanography from Stony Brook University (NY, USA). She moved to Australia and joined CSIRO in 2009. Sharon enjoys bushwalks with her family, running (slowly), reading ‘pulp’ novels, and cooking. On the last point, she’s renowned for her authentic Thanksgiving feasts which include every type of pie you can imagine.
Sharon works across disciplines to introduce new ideas into environmental toxicology. Her PhD research utilised oceanographic tracer studies to demonstrate the toxicity of metals in food. Sharon says:
“I work with pollution with the idea of helping people and improving the environment (and ideally, doing both at the same time). I work with the ocean because it’s vast and unknown and filled with really different, wonderful creatures”.
Sharon is a currently a Principal Research Scientist based at CSIRO, Oceans and Atmosphere in Hobart. Sharon applies modern –omics based approaches to environmental problems, determining the impacts of low-level exposures in generating long term ecologically relevant toxic responses, and in the appropriate design and implementation of toxicity testing. She was among the first to use modern genomics-based approaches in environmental toxicology -and one of the first to demonstrate that these modern molecular techniques could be used in the ‘real world’- for non-model organisms in the field. She is currently co-chairing a Pellston workgroup on using “-omics” studies in contaminated into the regulatory arena – and is hoping to talk about the outcomes of the workshop at the world congress in Singapore. Sharon has worked with a vast array of environmental contaminants, including metals, oil, and pesticides, and with a variety of taxa, from bacteria to fish.
Her research has also influenced policy. She was lead author on the oil spill monitoring handbook, now adopted as Australia’s national plan for a maritime emergency. She also highlighted that modern use pesticides may be impacting fisheries and aquaculture.
Being a Superstar of STEM (a media and communications training program for women sponsored by Science Technology Australia), Sharon is a role model for young women and girls, and is working towards equal representation in the media of women and men in all fields in STEM. She joined the program out of a desire to better communicate the science we do so that more people would support evidence-based decision making. So far, the program has changed the way she thinks about promoting her science and herself (though she still feels a bit awkward about the whole self-promotion concept), and she would recommend that anyone who is thinking about applying give it a go!
Keep in touch with Sharon on Twitter @SharonHook12