Eva-Maria Collins, PhD, is an Associate Professor in Biology at Swarthmore College, an Adjunct Associate Professor in Neuroscience at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and an Adjunct Associate Professor in Physics at the University of California San Diego. She is also an Affiliate Member of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology and is part of the Environmental Neuroscience Core. Dr. Collins is a valuable member of CEET due to her influential work in and outside the lab.
A trained physicist, Dr. Collins uses a multi-disciplinary approach to study emergent properties of biological systems. Her research is funded by the NSF, the NIH, and private foundations and focuses on three major areas: Biomechanics, Neuroethology, and Neurotoxicology. Her lab has pioneered rapid chemical screening in the freshwater planarian Dugesia japonica (patent pending). By using non-mammalian organisms in their research, Dr. Collins and her team can study the developmental effects of various toxins more efficiently and reduce the use of mammals in research.
The promise of this new, large-scale, non-mammalian organismal screening method and the educational work of Dr. Collins has been recognized in the toxicology community. In 2019, Dr. Collins’ postdoctoral researcher Dr. Danielle Ireland won the CAAT Next Generation Humane Science Award, in 2020, Dr. Collins and her team were awarded with the Toxicological Sciences Paper of the Year Award for their comparative research on developmental toxicity in zebrafish and planarians, and in 2021 Dr. Collins was awarded a Society of Toxicology Faculty Research Grant. Her team’s most recent work is part of the special issue Rising Stars in Neurotoxicology: 2021 in the journal Frontiers in Toxicology, Section Neurotoxicology.
Dr. Collins is committed to engaging the public and training the next generation of scientists to identify and understand the effects of chemical pollutants on communities. She has worked with over 80 undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds and majors. Dr. Collins has developed undergraduate courses that incorporate authentic hands-on research experiences, spanning from systems biology to developmental neurotoxicology. Through a collaboration with the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility at Swarthmore College, Dr. Collins has facilitated connections between her students and members of the local community in Chester to discuss waste management programs and environmental justice. She has also mentored two female undergraduates on the development of an environmental justice module for middle school students in the Science for Kids program. This module teaches students to reflect on how the environment and pollution affect aquatic organisms. Students are guided to formulate hypotheses, test their hypotheses through hands-on laboratory experiments using planarians, and record their observations. This module also teaches students about the environmental landscape of Philadelphia by analyzing the location of superfund sites in Philadelphia and how the location of these sites contribute to environmental injustices in our city.
Dr. Collins’ work is an excellent example of how toxicology research can be translated to younger audiences and how to make connections between laboratory, classroom, and communities. Students and community members can be engaged and empowered to consider and solve problems that they care about. Furthermore, this work can provide young people with skills that will help them succeed in school and demonstrate how scientific research can make a positive impact on their everyday lives.