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Optimizing Taxonomic Identification of Chironomidae for Monitoring Fresh Water Using DNA Barcoding

Updated: Jan 16

Emily Tianshi had the pleasure of interviewing Sonja Michaluk from New Jersey on her unique environmental science project! Sonja is the winner of the 2019 Stockholm Junior Water Prize and a 2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalist. Visit We Impact's YouTube channel for her full interview.


What problem are you trying to solve? My research has focused on finding new methods to gather environmental data which is critical for protecting and monitoring an increasingly scarce water resource.  What is your solution? My novel method of utilizing the larval Chironomid to monitor the health of freshwater adds significant value for measuring an increasingly scarce freshwater resource. This genetics method captures the cumulative effects of any stressor, from non-point source nutrient and heavy metal pollution, to temperature and dissolved oxygen, to flow alteration. What challenges have you faced? There are many species of midge yet to be discovered and documented resulting in gaps in the genetic sequence databases!   However, I have learned from my personal experience that just as research helps to decipher pressing questions, new questions are also brought to the surface and doors are opened for further exploration. What advice would you have for students looking to innovate in the water sector? I highly recommend finding something you are truly passionate about because ideally you will spend hours encompassed by it. The water sector coincides with many different fields and there is so much opportunity to make a difference!  Why do you care about the environment? We are dependent on our environment and we are members of our local ecosystems.