PhD Ceremony Speaker, Spring 2022
Biological design graduate Devin Bowes exemplifies interdisciplinary scholarship at ASU. Having pursued an undergraduate in nutrition and dietetics, she used her interest in public health to fuel her doctoral research in novel applications of wastewater-based epidemiology, winning the dean’s dissertation award for her work.
“I never thought that I would be in an engineering type of program since I come from a nutrition and human health background,” says Bowes. “But the multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary approach of the biological design program made it very easy to tailor the courses that I wanted to take to make it relevant to my research. I love the program, and I’m super grateful that it was available.”
Her shift in direction followed one well-timed conversation with Rolf Halden, a professor of environmental engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Once she got a glimpse of the research being done, she saw a way she could make a difference in her community.
“In our center, Devin quickly established herself among our most valuable players,” says Halden. “She worked independently and with our team to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, while pushing the scientific boundaries of the quickly emerging field of wastewater-based epidemiology.”
During her time in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the seven Fulton Schools, Bowes’ research had a major focus on the novel coronavirus. She worked with the city of Tempe and the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering to design a COVID-19 dashboard based on wastewater, but she has a larger goal in mind.
“Among her many contributions are her help in launching the world’s first open-access online dashboard showing coronavirus levels in wastewater for a large municipality,” says Halden. “She also helped set up the nonprofit project, OneWaterOneHealth, which leverages wastewater monitoring to attain environmental justice for underserved communities. Furthermore, Devin performed pioneering work in utilizing wastewater-based epidemiology to measure behavior and dietary intake at the population level in the context of public health priorities, including obesity, substance use disorder, and breast cancer.”
Nutrition and dietetics have always interested Bowes due to the constant development in the field. She’d like to bring this same energy to her research in biological design and continue to expand the uses of wastewater-based epidemiology to keep up with contemporary challenges.
“The ultimate goal from my standpoint would be to measure various human health metrics from wastewater-derived data,” says Bowes. “Part of that, of course, would be diet. I have experience working as a nutritional counselor at a local Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinic here in the Valley. So, this is a huge opportunity to see what areas need the most help or where we need to implement better strategies and better education. The wastewater data can be used as a piece of the puzzle to inform all of that. That’s my personal goal.”
That aim speaks to a longstanding passion for Bowes who, as an undergraduate, started a small business visiting people’s homes to teach them cooking and nutrition skills. After graduation, she will continue her studies as a postdoctoral researcher at ASU, working to bridge her dream of improving public health and nutrition with her investment in academia.