Over the course of his illustrious 36-year career at Trent University, Dr. Chris Metcalfe became an internationally recognized expert in water quality, and played a leading role in establishing the Water Quality Centre at Trent – the most comprehensive mass spectrometry facility in the country.
Dr. Metcalfe, who retired from Trent on January 1, 2021, is professor emeritus in Trent’s School of the Environment, and was fundamental in establishing the University’s reputation as one of Canada’s top post-secondary institutions for environmental studies.
“The School of the Environment has a world-class reputation, particularly in issues related to water quality, thanks in part to the outstanding research of Professor Metcalfe and his early recognition of the toxic effects of contaminants in our waterways,” says Dr. Cathy Bruce, acting vice president of Research & Innovation at Trent. “Chris is one of a handful of leading scientists in the world who has shaped ongoing global research associated with urban water quality and his work has helped initiate a paradigm shift in how the world understands water-soluble contaminants.”
As a leader in his field, Prof. Metcalfe pioneered research that examined issues such as the effects of pharmaceuticals flushed into our waterways, and the protection of drinking water in Indigenous communities, and was routinely asked to provide advice to government agencies in Canada and across the world.
Great Lakes nearby for research
When Prof. Metcalfe first arrived at Trent in 1984, he was a young, first-time professor with a passion for research in the aquatic sciences and a recently completed Ph.D. investigating contaminants that cause cancer in fish. Thinking back to the start of his career, Prof. Metcalfe says he was attracted to all of the advantages of Trent University and the many opportunities for growth. The University was much smaller then, with roughly 3,500 students and fewer than one-third of them studying the sciences.
“Being a Prairie boy from a small city in Manitoba, I liked the small-university atmosphere and the one-on-one attention I could provide students,” he says. “And the beautiful campus offered not only the Otonabee River but also the nearby Kawartha Lakes and Lake Ontario for my research.”
As he and his colleagues started to acquire high-end analytical equipment through the Canada Foundation for Innovation program, they eventually founded the Water Quality Centre, which promotes research, scholarly activity and training in the development and use of advanced analytical chemistry techniques.
His work with Indigenous communities came about through his role as director of the Institute for Watershed Science (IWS) – a University research organization that promotes research and training in the watershed sciences. Under his direction (2006 to 2020), the IWS was heavily involved in working with Indigenous communities in Ontario and northern Canada.
A high-profile study came about in 2013 when Prof. Metcalfe began leading research into the fate and effects of nanosilver at the IISD-Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario. He also contributed his expertise to the many threats to the Great Lakes by serving the International Joint Commission as a member of the Great Lakes Science Advisory Board from 2014 to 2016.
Water research across the globe
Taking his expertise around the world, Prof. Metcalfe has worked on watershed management projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, East Africa and Southeast Asia. This international experience earned him a role as a senior research fellow at the UN University – Institute for Water Environment and Health based in Hamilton, Ontario. More recently, Prof. Metcalfe became the editor in chief of the scientific journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.
Now officially retired, Prof. Metcalfe says he continues to serve as editor and plans to still be involved with the University.
This Fall, he’d like to help teach Environmental Health (ERSC-3710H), which examines environmental factors that affect human health and wellbeing.
Once the pandemic ends, Prof. Metcalfe is also planning to volunteer with an experiential-learning course, which provides an opportunity for students to travel to the Barbados for a week to better understand environmental issues in small island developing states.
Prof. Metcalfe established this course, which offers students hands-on activities such as visiting a desalination plant that produces drinking water, speaking to local fishermen about the challenges posed by climate change and snorkeling to explore a declining coral reef.
“Students come away with a deeper appreciation for environmental issues and are inspired to develop global solutions,” he says. “I’ve devoted my career to training students and researching issues surrounding water quality and environmental problems. Although retired, I look forward to continuing to pursue these passions.”