Dr. Mitra and Science

Greetings everyone! Thank you for visiting the website.  I’m a professor of organic geochemistry here in the Department of Geological Sciences at ECU.  My wife Paula, my sons Sthir, Pranab, and Surya love life here in North Carolina.  We're even more thankful to be in NC every time we see the weather channel covering the snow, sleet, cold weather, and rain in the Binghamton, NY area, our previous home.  We miss the folks from Binghamton but we don’t miss the weather!

As a scientist, I focus on the fate and transport of trace organic chemicals in the environment.  Organic chemicals, natural or synthetic, can help answer many questions about anthropologic or geologic processes.  Below, I have highlighted my specific areas of research in organic geochemistry.

One major area of research here at ECU deals with the biogeochemical cycling of black carbon and its effects on the global carbon cycle.  Black carbon is the residue left after combustion processes such as biomass or fossil fuel burning.   Investigations of historical black carbon deposition in sedimentary environments can offer evidence of paleofires and historical land use practices and are intimately linked to paleoclimate.  Another area of research with which I am involved deals with the science of organic contaminant bioavailability.  For example, why is it that an organic contaminant presents deleterious effects to a community of benthic organisms in one area but not to another community of the same organisms in another area?  The answer may not lie so much in the organisms’ biological response but more so in the natural organic matter composition of the sedimentary matrix to which the organisms are exposed.  Finally, the third area of research with which I am involved, deals with tracking the environmental contamination of natural waters from the active ingredients in many pharmaceutical and personal care product chemicals.  Many of the drugs we ingest as humans are being detected in aquatic environments and may pose a significant threat to the ecosystem.  Identifying the factors that affect the stability of these chemicals in the natural environment is tantamount to minimizing their potential environmental hazard.

Much of my research is comprised of fieldwork in coastal areas coupled with extensive laboratory analytical work.  Field work for my current projects takes place in venues such as the Hudson River in NY and the Ganges-Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh.  Depending on the scientific question at hand, fieldwork can entail sampling water, suspended sediments, and bed sediments.  The corresponding laboratory work entails isolation of target organic chemicals from these samples.

I firmly believe that promoting scholarship at the university level requires not only a strong and cutting edge research program but also a sound educational program.  I currently teach Introduction to Oceanography (GEOL 1550), Environmental Geology (GEOl 1700) at the undergraduate level and Biogeochemistry (GEOL 7830) at the graduate level.

Although I’m fairly new here, as an organic geochemist with a background in marine science and oceanography, I anticipate collaborations with several of the faculty here at ECU. If you want to read about some of the other faculty in the department, check out ECU Geological Sciences.