ELVIA NIEBLA Biography - Famous Scientists


Biography » famous scientists » elvia niebla


As a child, I was always interested in outdoor life. I was the youngest of four       
brothers and sisters growing up in Nogales, Arizona. I was proud to attend my         
elementary school because my step-grandfather was the general contractor who           
helped build it. Science became my favorite subject. In junior high and high           
school, I had to make an important decision that would affect the rest of my           
life. I was advised not to continue taking science and mathematics classes             
because knowing mathematics and science wouldn’t be necessary to be a secretary       
or Spanish teacher-the two traditional careers of a Hispanic female in the 1960’s.     
I wanted to go to college and become a scientist! I enjoyed my science courses,       
and I was doing well in them. When I talked with my parents, they urged me to         
continue taking science and mathematics. They told me that whatever I decided to       
do, they would support my choice. I continued taking mathematics and science           
classes. One of my high school teachers even took time after school to teach me       
calculus. I attended junior college before I went to the University of Arizona.       
I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology/ chemistry, a master’s degree         
in education, and a Ph.D. in soil chemistry. As a soil scientist, I worked for         
the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I studied the effects of chemicals       
on the ground. In particular, I worked with sludge. Sludge may look and feel           
like slimy mud, but it smells awful. Sludge is what is left over after garbage         
decomposes. Believe it or not, sludge contains nutrients that the ground needs         
to help make plants grow. Sludge is sometimes spread on the land where farmers         
plant their crops. One project that I worked on dealt with the amount of poisons       
such as lead, in industrial sludge. Using mathematics, I described several             
pathways by which humans could get poisoned by sludge. For example, if there is       
even a small amount of arsenic in sludge that is spread on the ground, the             
arsenic would be passed on to the grass. The arsenic could pass into cows when         
they eat the grass. Then, if those cows were slaughtered and made into hamburger,     
a human eating the meat would get arsenic poisoning. The US EPA put me in charge       
of writing the regulations for the use of sludge on agricultural land, to help         
prevent the poisons in sludge from reaching humans. When I became the national         
coordinator for the Global Change Research Program (GCRP), I continued working         
with environmental issues. I help decide what needs to be done so that we can         
study how the changes of the earth affect trees, animals, forests, acid rain,         
and ozone. One year, I decided how to distribute $25,000,000 to scientists and         
the science projects they proposed. When the results of the environmental             
research are given to me, I use them to help advise politicians making the rules       
for the usage of land. I also represent the United States at international             
environmental conferences.