“There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.”
I was born and raised in the Houston, Texas area, and received a B.B.A. in finance from the University of Texas (Austin, Texas) in May, 1988. Three years later, I received a law degree from Columbia University (New York, NY), and practiced law for approximately 15 years. I began as a bankruptcy/business reorganization lawyer, and became a business lawyer specializing in tax planning, business formations, mergers, acquisitions, and related business transactions. I enjoyed the negotiating process and intellectual challenges, but wanted to put the same time and energy into broader problems related to clean water, human health, human welfare, and the environment. I could have pursued a policy job, but wanted to understand the science behind the issues, so I went back to school. I gravitated to chemistry because I like to understand the fundamental mechanisms and processes that make things happen. I also love working with advanced technologies to solve complex problems. My career change was dramatic, but I have always believed that personal limitations are mainly self-imposed. After starting at square one (1st semester general chemistry with colleagues half my age), I couldn’t be happier with the path I have taken, and look forward to the next challenges it brings.
Natural Organic Matter Chemistry
My primary interest is natural organic matter chemistry. Natural organic matter comprises the largest organic carbon reservoir on earth. In simplest terms, it is a mixture of plant and other biological materials in various states of decay. This mixture is extremely complex, and variable in composition, because it is derived from different sources and subject to different conditions. In water, natural organic matter commonly occurs as a fine, colloidal suspension of organic molecules, assembled together through complex interactions with each other and metal ions. For all its complexity at any moment, natural organic matter is also always changing as it continues to decay and interact with the surrounding environment. The study of natural organic matter is important because it is a fundamental component of ecosystem processes and environmental chemistry, affecting biological activity in soils and water bodies, water and nutrient availability in soils, atmospheric CO2, redox and photochemical reactions in nature, contaminant mobility or sequestration, and more. Together with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (Tallahassee, FL), we are applying high resolution mass spectrometry (FTICR MS) to examine differences in natural organic matter under various circumstances, including wildfire impacts on organic nitrogen, carbon stabilization during iron mineral crystallization, and adsorption of composted material to mineral soils. Our goals are:
- to develop more powerful and efficient techniques for processing and visualizing FTICR MS data, which can be immense,
- to improve the connection between macroscale analytical techniques (e.g., UV absorption spectroscopy), which provide bulk chemical information on the natural organic matter mixture, microscale analytical techniques (e.g., X-ray absorption spectroscopy), which provide extraordinary spatial detail of carbon-mineral interactions, and FTICR MS, which provides precise, elemental information on natural organic matter components.
Organic Environmental Pollutants
My other main interest is organic environmental pollutants. Because so many people live on this planet, the impact of our activities on clean water supplies, ecosystems, and human health is dramatic. For example, chemicals and chemical byproducts from human activities enter surface and ground water through wastewater discharge, runoff from urban and agricultural developments, and other means. Some of these chemicals are natural, but present at unprecedented levels. These pollutants can have toxic or chronic health effects, which can be general or specific to species and individuals (e.g., allergic reactions to medicines). In addition, little is known about their combined effects. We apply advanced analytical techniques to detect organic pollutants in the environment, and to examine their distribution through air, water, soils and sediments. We also study how and when they transform through biological, photochemical, and other chemical reactions. For example, during my Ph.D. program, I studied the direct and indirect (through interactions with dissolved natural organic matter) photodegradation of androstenedione and testosterone (male steroid sex hormones) and lamotrigine (an antiepileptic and mood disorder drug) in natural and artificial sunlight. Our goals are:
- to determine the lifetimes and effects of organic pollutants in the environment,
- to examine the processes that govern their lifetimes and distribution through air, water, soils, and sediments,
- to understand whether certain chemical types pose greater risks to clean water supplies, ecosystems, and human health.
For more details about the research conducted in the Borch group please click here.
Colorado Water Institute
National Science Foundation, Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems
National Science Foundation, Division of Earth Sciences, Geobiology and Low-Temperature Geochemistry
The Borch-Hoppess Fund for Environmental Contaminant Research
United States – Israel Binational Agriculture Research and Development Fund
Liquid and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, including high resolution and tandem mass spectrometry
Dissolved organic matter characterization
Nontargeted chemical analysis and data processing
Trace contaminant detection and quantification, including various sample extraction, concentration, and cleanup techniques
Elemental analysis by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry
Avneri-Katz, Shani, Robert B. Young, Amy M. McKenna, Huan Chen, Yuri E. Corilo, Tamara Polubesova, Thomas Borch, and Benny Chefetz. 2017. “Adsorptive fractionation of dissolved organic matter (DOM) by mineral soil: Macroscale approach and molecular insight.” Organic Geochemistry 103:113-124. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2016.11.004.
Young, R. B.; Chefetz, B.; Liu, A.; Desyaterik, Y.; Borch, T., Direct photodegradation of lamotrigine (an antiepileptic) in simulated sunlight – pH influenced rates and products. Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts 2014, 16, (4), 848-857.
Young, R. B.; Latch, D. E.; Mawhinney, D. B.; Nguyen, T. H.; Davis, J. C. C.; Borch, T., Direct photodegradation of androstenedione and testosterone in natural sunlight: Inhibition by dissolved organic matter and reduction of endocrine disrupting potential. Environmental Science & Technology, 2013, 47 (15), 8416-8424.
Mawhinney, D. B.; Young, R. B.; Vanderford, B. J.; Borch, T.; Snyder, S. A., Artificial sweetener sucralose in U.S. drinking water systems. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011, 45 (20), 8716-8722.
Yang, Y. Y.; Pereyra, L. P.; Young, R. B.; Reardon, K. F.; Borch, T., Testosterone-mineralizing culture enriched from swine manure: Characterization of degradation pathways and microbial community composition. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011, 45 (16), 6879-6886.
For more publications in the Borch group please click here.