On Scarves and Science

Dan Brabander wearing a jaunty orange scarf.

Photo by Richard Howard

To discover more about the intersection of environmental studies, geosciences, and scarves, we spoke with Dan Brabander, professor of geosciences, Frost Professor in Environmental Science, and resident “scarf guy” on campus.

What are your research interests?

My research interests have really been informed by three training experiences in my life: formal training as a geochemist in geology-focused programs, a postdoc in environmental engineering, …and a sabbatical at the Harvard School of Public Health. In a very concrete way, the research that I’ve been involved with for the past 15 years is trying to come up with best practices for sustainable urban agriculture.

What have you been working on with students?

I had a research group this past semester of 14.

I took seven students to the American Chemical Society [national meeting], and [they] presented on three different research projects. One of them … is looking at herbicides in tampons and trying to figure out … what are some of the exposure risks. Another project … is using used alkaline batteries and taking the oxide powders out of them and adding them to compost and soil to more tightly bind the lead in the soil so it doesn’t get into the plants. This is an example of an engineering project that really has a sustainability mindset to it. And then the final project: It’s becoming increasingly popular to harvest fruit from the urban landscape, and while there’s a fair bit of literature on [whether it is] safe to eat the tomatoes and the kale, there are very few if any papers examining what are the trace element concentrations in urban fruit.

How did you become the “scarf guy”?

I had students at a meeting, and they were all wearing scarves, and I was feeling left out. And they gave me a scarf—my first try at it. I would say 90 percent of my scarf collection is student gifts. It provides a long-term connection [with] largely my research students, but sometimes a class will come together and get me a scarf, as well. We do have emergency scarves in the lab, so if you ever find yourself without a scarf, there’s always a scarf that you can grab and go.

How big is your collection?

It’s probably [around] 40.

Can you pick a favorite scarf?

Not possible. It would be like picking your favorite child. I can’t do that.

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