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Ted Lee in Honduras water station
Ted Lee in Honduras water station

Behind Dr. Ted Lee is a long line of people who are picking up two buckets and water filters at a village distribution site.

  • June 12, 2023
  • Roger Coda

It should come as no surprise for SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Ted Lee of the Department of Biology  to use his Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award during the Spring 2024 semester to continue his research into water quality issues in rural areas in Honduras.

Dr. Lee’s award – one of over 45 Fulbrights granted to SUNY Fredonia faculty since 1981 – is for scholarship and will have a focus on the effectiveness of membrane filters in the rural communities. The work directly relates to the preliminary studies Lee has been doing on Honduran drinking water for the past year with Fredonia students.

“The level of competition for these awards is intense, and Ted’s selection is a testimony to the quality of his work here at SUNY Fredonia,” President Stephen H. Kolison Jr. wrote in the May 30 edition of “The Understory,” an email update he sends to faculty and staff.

During the 2023 J-Term, Lee worked with Biology major Delanie Tunstall to evaluate the effectiveness of filters to make safe drinking water available. A Fredonia contingent of 12 students, three alumni and Lee served on medical brigades that provided basic healthcare to rural residents.

It was during a March 2022 trip to Honduras that Lee began working with water filters as a member of a five-person group from the United States. “This was the trip that initiated the current research project looking at the effectiveness of the filters and bacteria present in the water,” Lee said.

“I would be thrilled to set up collaborations between Fredonia and Honduran students during or after the Fulbright and would also hope to be able to host the Honduran students here in the future.” - Dr. Ted Lee

Since developing the Honduras study abroad program that prepares students to serve on medical brigades in Honduras during the J-Term, Lee has led three Fredonia groups to the impoverished Central American country.

By the time his Fulbright experience begins, Lee will have made over 10 trips to Honduras – many that he arranged himself – that have focused on medical and/or water work. Lee and Ms. Tunstall also traveled to Honduras in late May to continue water research, while another student, Amanda Roth, a rising senior majoring in Biology, is scheduled to join Lee there in August for a combined medical and water brigade week.

“My goal is to use traditional and molecular approaches to identify the species of bacteria in drinking water (pre- and post-filtration),” Lee explained. “We will focus on Gram negative bacteria such as E. coli and we can grow the bacteria on solid media, isolate their DNA and identify them based on their DNA sequences. We can also isolate DNA directly from the water without growing the bacteria and identify them based on the DNA sequences.”

While in Honduras through the Fulbright program, Lee also plans to mentor research students at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH), while working with students and faculty in the natural sciences. The Fulbright provides a stipend to Lee to cover living expenses.

Department of Biology Professor Bill Brown will lead the Honduras J-Term program during Lee’s sabbatical leave in the Spring 2024 semester. Lee will participate as an assistant or friend of the program and also be involved with planning for the trip.

“I would be thrilled to set up collaborations between Fredonia and Honduran students during or after the Fulbright and would also hope to be able to host the Honduran students here in the future,” Lee said. “I am excited to have the opportunity to work with new colleagues and students at the university and live in the capital city; it will be a very different experience from my previous trips and work.”

Lee incorporates aspects of his Honduras water research into his Microbiology class lectures and laboratory. “I hope that this research will continue and to engage more Fredonia students on this research in future years,” he said. “Another major goal is to have Fredonia students from outside of the natural sciences participate in the J-Term study abroad program.”