My doctoral thesis, with the title “Ringerweiterungreactionen an Aminolactamen” (“Ring enlargement reactions on aminolactames”), was focusing on the development of a transamidation reaction (called zip-reaction) for the synthesis of polyaminolactames, and received particular attention. The publications of my thesis have been cited in classical books of organic chemistry (e.g. “Advanced Organic Chemistry”, by J. March) and opened a field in which, numerous PhD theses were done at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Zurich.
After the defence of my PhD thesis, I received the “Hans Schmid” award for postdoctoral research and continued my scientific career in Environmental Sciences at the EAWAG (German initials for Swiss Federal Institute for Water Resources & Water Pollution Control) of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). My postdoctoral activity at the EAWAG and later at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of Stanford University were important milestones in my research and academic career and indicated my ability to constructively change research field and conduct interdisciplinary research. In both institutions (ETH-Z and Stanford) I studied the fate of organic contaminants in the aquatic environment. The publications, I have authored and co-authored during my postdoctoral research, found recognition in the environmental engineering and scientific community stated by the number of citations received and the following up of this research by numerous studies in leading laboratories worldwide, and had a wide societal impact. My work on the fate of nonylphenol ethoxylate nonionic surfactants (in collaboration with Professor Walter Giger), published in Environ. Sci. Technol., Chemosphere, Organic Mass Spectrometry, and Biomedical and Environmental Mass Spectrometry, triggered the ban of this compound class in Switzerland and Germany. We demonstrated that a hydrophilic and non-toxic surfactant (nonylphenol ethoxylates, added to many commodities) through wastewater treatment was leaving as residue the nonylphenol, a very toxic and lipophilic (prone to bioaccumulation) environmental metabolite. Nonylphenol is now recognized as an endocrine disruptor, a fact that fostered research in leading laboratories in many countries.
In January 1986, I started my academic career as a faculty member in the new Department of Chemistry of the University of Crete (UoC). Trying to promote interdisciplinary research, I collaborated with foreign (ETH Zurich, Max Plank Institute, University of Stockholm, Lancaster University, University P. & M. Curie, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Utrecht University, CNR Bologna, Italy, CREAL and CSIC Spain) and Greek Institutions (Dept. of Chemical Engineering - University of Patras, Dept. of Biology - University of Crete) through European research Programmes and published the results of this effort, with my students and colleagues, in leading journals such as Science, Nature, Environmental Science and Technology, Journal of Geophysical Research, Microbial Ecology, Environmental Health Perspectives, Cell Plant, Lancet, etc.
My scientific group’s research activity focuses in the field of Environmental Organic Chemistry and specifically on the study of biogeochemical cycles of organic biogenic and anthropogenic compounds, the long-range transport of contaminants, the formation of organic aerosols, and recently to the study of the environmental (air and water consumption) exposure of humans to toxic organic chemicals. This activity occurs in close collaboration with Epidemiologists, Modellers and Molecular Geneticists. The tasks of my group consist mainly to assess the environmental exposure (air and drinking water) and to study the metabolites of toxic compounds in human fluids (urine, blood).
The publications produced by my group received attention and recognition by the international scientific community, the specialized scientific press and the international and national press.
Some highlights of my research outcomes at the University of Crete:
We demonstrated, by using a multidisciplinary approach of physical measurements, chemical analysis and meteorological measurements, for the first time that biologically produced gases are converted to particles that may function as cloud condensation nuclei, revealing thus a direct connection between the metabolic activity of trees and the propensity for the atmosphere to produce clouds. The results of this activity were published in leading scientific journals (e.g. Nature, Environmental Science and Technology, Journal of Geophysical Research and Geophysical Research Letters), received numerous citations and were given particular attention in the specialized scientific press (Chemical and Engineering News 76, October 19, 1998) and the international press (New York Times-Sciences Supplement, November 3, 1998). In addition, a part of it has been designated as “Editor choice” (Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 26, 1999).
In the field of the study of biogeochemical cycles of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), my group was the first to demonstrate by performing field studies, owing to the fine analytical techniques we developed, the destruction of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) by hydroxyl radicals, and the mechanism of formation of the very toxic nitrated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (nitro-PAHs). This research was also published in the leading journals of the field (e.g. Environmental Science and Technology, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Journal of Geophysical Research).
Our research effort concerning the study of the emerging contaminants, such as polybrominated biphenyl ethers (or PBDEs) used as flame- retardants, published in Environmental Science and Technology was presented in the “Sciences News Site” of the American Chemical Society (http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2008/mar/science), in Environ. Health Perspectives (http://www.ehponline.org/members/2008/116-5/focus.html). In addition, an article in “Le Figaro” (http://www.lefigaro.fr/sciences/2008/04/16/) was dedicated to this research.
In recent study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, we examined the microbial quality of aerosols over the Eastern Mediterranean region (Island of Crete, Greece) during an African dust storm. Bacterial communities associated with aerosol particles of six different size ranges were characterized following molecular culture-independent methods (analysis of 16S rRNA genes). Spore forming bacteria such as Firmicutes were found to be present at all aerosol particles and dominated the large particle sizes. Besides the dominance of Firmicutes in dust particles, at the respirable particles were detected phylogenetic neighbours to human pathogens. These pathogens have been linked to several diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bacteremia or suspected to induce pathologic reactions such as endocarditis. This study was an important breakthrough (see references in NIH: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2265062/) in the research, focusing on African dust as a microorganism carrier and it is the first report of size-distributed airborne bacteria during a Saharan storm using molecular-based methods.
To advance this study I was awarded, in October 2011, the “ARISTEIA” (EXCELLENCE) grant of the Ministry of Education and Research of Greece (the rejection rate for the ARISTEIA grants was 90%).
Due to the recognition of our publications, my PhD students were received for postdoctoral research in respected research institutions (Harvard University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Stockholm University, DRI, Northeastern University, Imperial College and others) and are now tenured or on tenure track researchers in foreign and Greek research Institutions. I have also been invited to present the research work of my group by different academic and research institutions. I have served the international scientific community as Editor in international peer reviewed scientific journals, as a reviewer to international and national research agencies, and scientific journals, and as member in international committees.
I am honoured to have been member of the European Research Council (ERC) Panel for the Sciences of the Earth from its beginning (2007) up to the end of 2015.