Researcher Profiles | Jan 25, 2017 | By Sumeep Bath, Media and Communications Officer

Sonya Havens

As you have likely seen from many of the glorious images of IISD Experimental Lakes Area, we get plenty of sunny days out at the site. You would have to check our Meteorological Site for the exact stats, but, regardless, a drop of California sunshine never hurts, and Sonya Havens certainly brings that.

A native San Diegan, Sonya has been working as our full-time, on-site Chemist since November 2014, and is trained as both an environmental and analytical chemist, bringing a unique blend of experience in chemistry and limnology to her position.

Perhaps San Diegan is a bit of a misnomer; Sonya has actually lived and studied all around California, New York state, and Wisconsin, before meeting a Canadian, another IISD Experimental Lakes Area researcher no less, and moving up north to IISD-ELA.

“I met my husband, Scott Higgins, who had already worked at IISD-ELA, at a conference. Conferences are the only way us scientists ever get to meet anyone!” she jokes. “I was no stranger to IISD-ELA, however, given that many of my professors and peers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison had worked at the facility.”

Sonya is now the one full-time Chemist that IISD Experimental Lakes Area has throughout the year, although her work is complemented each year by numerous undergraduate summer students who come and assist her in the Chemistry Laboratory. “I never fail to be impressed by their energy, vibrancy, and eagerness. Also by just how plain smart they are and the good ideas they develop. Sometimes I think to myself, man I need to up my game!”


Summer student Jamie Dearnley, in the Chemistry laboratory, speaking with Tyler Mifflin of The Water Brothers.

Most of Sonya’s work involves working inside, meaning she is rarely out on the lakes, except for a few instances where she and a summer student will boat out to the island on Lake 240 to collect samples. Otherwise, the days are spent running and analyzing the samples that the researchers collect out in the field.

“Time is always of the essence when you are working with water samples at IISD-ELA. Many have to be analyzed within a few days. This is because we want to ensure that the samples most closely reflect the makeup of the water in the lake at the time of collection. Samples can change over time, and after a while are not truly reflective of what is happening in the lake. It’s therefore up to those who are working in the Chemistry Laboratory to work quickly and efficiently.”

But her work also affords Sonya the opportunity to develop new processes and adapt existing ones. As an analytical chemist, Sonya is able to work on new solutions to analyzing the chemistry of our water.  The majority of her doctoral work focused on adapting methods used for the analysis of pharmaceuticals to analyze steroid hormones from confined animal farming operations.

Of course, IISD-ELA isn’t all work, and Sonya spends seven months of the year out at camp with her husband and two children. “Working and living at IISD-ELA is great, and has been a great experience for us all. And when your cabin is located just a few minutes’ walk away from the lakes, you can’t beat that kind of commute!”