After all, the world’s water flows freely, and Dr. Naja’s professional passion is water. Clean, abundant and cheap water. Everywhere, for everyone.
“What drives me is finding a solution to water pollution,” she says. “A sustainable solution.”
At the Everglades Foundation, where she’s been a water quality scientist since 2008, Naja researches ways to cleanse the Everglades of dangerous levels of phosphorus and mercury.
“When you have a lot of phosphorus like that coming from agricultural runoff and urban areas, it can create an algae bloom,” she explains, “and that kills fish. It’s like bringing in too much food that shifts the balance of the ecosystem leading to the rapid spread of invasive vegetation”.
Dr. Naja’s professional life has crossed quite a few borders. Born in Lebanon, she earned her Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the Universite Henri Poincare in France, returned to Lebanon to teach for two years, and then crossed the water to Canadian Montreal’s McGill University, where she worked on developing a process for cleansing water of toxic heavy metals.
A love of education and science flows in her family, too. Her father retired as a professor of history, her mother a professor of philosophy. And her four sisters also have doctorates in science.
“Whenever I say I have four siblings with PhDs in the sciences, people are amazed,” she laughs. “I don’t know why, really. I have an inquisitive mind, and our parents were always pushing us along. Who knows – perhaps it’s in our genes.”
The Everglades, she says, is the world’s biggest environmental laboratory, and she loves working in it, monitoring pollution levels, developing solutions and directing the foundation’s college interns.
When she’s not working to keep the Everglades clean, Naja tends a flower garden at home, and enjoys challenging novels and long walks.
“I love walking,” she says, and laughs, “but I can’t run.”