Five Questions with Jayne Boyer
Jayne Boyer balances lab work with exploring the great outdoors.
Name: Jayne Boyer
Position: Research specialist, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Time at the Gillings School: Seven years
What I do at UNC Gillings (and why I love it): I’m the lab manager for Leena Nylander-French [PhD, professor of environmental sciences and engineering]. I write grants, order supplies, teach lab techniques to students, manage instrument repair, and write and edit papers. Our lab runs both biological and chemical experiments; I’m mostly on the biological side. I have a doctoral degree in toxicology, and I use that training to study how chemicals affect cells in the human body. We do a lot of what are called dose-response studies, which determine what range of exposure to a chemical will produce a toxic effect.
I like this job because of the intellectual freedom it offers. I pose hypotheses and design experiments to answer them. I also love working with students – they are so excited just to be here and to learn. And, of course, I enjoy everything that comes along with being part of UNC.
An especially interesting project I work on: involves growing three-dimensional skin cultures and testing various chemicals on them. Because there are so many concerns around testing chemicals on people – but we really do need living skin to learn about chemical effects – we actually create layered skin models in our laboratory. (It’s a lot of work, but much cheaper to do this in-house than purchase the cultures!) Once we’ve gotten the samples ready, we test substances like the clear coat that is sprayed over car paint to protect it. We already know that inhaling too much polyurethane spray can cause chemical-induced asthma, but we’re also studying the role of skin exposure in this occupational disease. In small auto-body shops throughout North Carolina and elsewhere, it’s skin exposure that happens most commonly.
When it comes to a really memorable day in the office, though, I always say, “When an experiment works, it’s a good day!”
The first job I ever had: was working at a burger stand when I was in high school in Beaver Falls, Pa. It was a terrible job! I came home every day smelling like fried meat, and the manager was stealing from the till… I only lasted about a month there. After high school, most of my jobs were in labs. At one point, I worked in quality control – now I look back and wonder what chemicals I may have been exposed to in that job.
A place I’ve spent a good amount of time: is Northern Ireland. My husband, who is a faculty member in UNC’s School of Medicine, was invited to participate in an exchange program with Ulster University. Their community was trying to move from farming to biotechnology, and they were very interested in what North Carolina had achieved in Research Triangle Park.
We spent several summers there as a family and toured the country with our kids. Given “the Troubles,” as locals called the political conflict on the island, there weren’t a lot of tourists. We came in a period when things were fairly calm, but we still enjoyed the benefits of being just about the only visitors. There were no crowds, and people were always so friendly because they were happy to see new faces. The villages we visited often reminded me of the homey little town where I grew up.
If you want to start a conversation with me, ask about: visiting national parks. Lately, I’ve been to quite a few of them. Our most recent trip was to Grand Teton National Park, which is near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. I’m a photographer, and the combination of beautiful scenery, hiking and photo opportunities is perfect for me! When we visited in August, the park was having a festival for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. We were treated to talks on ecology and history by the park rangers, of whom my sister-in-law is one (in a volunteer capacity). We enjoyed ourselves so much that we plan to return next August for a longer visit and will be present for the 2017 solar eclipse!
Below is a sample of Jayne’s photos from her recent trip.