Fellow communicates the importance of air quality through lichens Meet Hanna Mesraty

Hanna Mesraty is asking the big question: “How do we get the public engaged and involved with science?” Driven by curiosity, she gleaned a love of old cities and museums while visiting her family in Libya as a child. This significantly impacted her educational journey, says Mesraty. Later, she developed an interest in exploring how to better share information with the public. Using her passion for communications Mesraty wants to help spread scientific knowledge with broader audiences.


Hanna Mesraty uses her multidisciplinary background to educate the public on how air quality affects everyone. Pictured above: Mesraty with a wall of lichens in the San Jacinto mountains, Southern California. (Photo Credit: Hanna Mesraty)

Mesraty earned several degrees related to art, science and communications. This includes a bachelor’s of science in museum studies and liberal arts from Louisiana State University, post-graduate coursework in integrative biology and paleoecology at the University of California, Berkeley and a master’s of science communication and public engagement from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. During her undergraduate studies, she worked at the La Brea Tar Pits of the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, California.

After her most recent communications degree, Mesraty reached out to Linda Geiser, whose work influenced her master’s dissertation. This would prove fruitful as Geiser pointed Mesraty in the direction of Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education’s (ORISE) U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Research Participation Program. Geiser, who holds a doctorate in plant physiology, became her mentor under the USFS’s National Air Resource Management Program.

“The opportunity to participate in this fellowship, within the field of air quality and lichens and to potentially work with one of my biggest role models was too good to be true,” she said.

The USFS Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service Office and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.

Mesraty spends her fellowship alongside Geiser and the USFS with a focus on the air quality of U.S. national forests and grasslands. She has also been a mentor-peer to other fellows while collaborating on interagency projects, allowing her to meet scientists of varied disciplines.

Building on her interest in sharing science with broader audiences, Mesraty is providing communication strategies on air quality to both internal and external stake holders. She has proposed and implemented multiple approaches, such as devising a planning guide and creating accomplishment reports.

Mesraty also helped co-found and launch Lichens CitiSci, a community science project that engages community members in gathering lichens to help with monitoring air quality. As a bioindicator, lichens are living organisms that can be studied as an indicator of an ecosystem’s health. USFS analyzes lichens to learn about different pollutants found within the lichen’s tissue. The project aids the USFS in communicating the importance of air quality and biodiversity.

She is also using Lichens CitiSci to teach six graders about air quality and why it matters. Mesraty assisted in designing curricula and aims to empower the sixth graders to take action by making the science easy and relatable. She argues that putting biodiversity in terms of air quality is more productive because everyone breathes air.

“It’s a relatable way to help people understand why air quality is important and how it can be protected,” she said. Mesraty hopes to find other relatable ways to make her audience understand why air quality is important. Part of the solution involves reducing pollution; however, she says that there is still a long road ahead.

When asked to describe her typical day as a fellow Mesraty joked: “Is there a typical day?”Though her activities shift from day to day, meetings and deadlines stay consistent. She uses much ofher time researching topics and ideas and then during meetings she assists with presenting them to her team.

She presented about environmental thresholds for air pollution tolerance at the National Atmospheric Deposition Program Spring Meeting, and about Environmental Storytelling to the Public Lab. Mesraty has also attended several workshops, including a journalism pitching workshop where she was awarded a spot at NASA’s “Earth to Sky Climate is Culture: Interpreting Change on the Colorado Plateau” course.

Overall, she describes her fellowship with excitement and heartily recommends the program. She said that seeing the daily efforts of her peers has been inspiring. Her time at the USFS has been extended for an extra year due to her efforts.

“This fellowship is a great opportunity for someone finishing their graduate work, who is curious about their career path but not quite sure what they want to do. This fellowship has allowed me to really explore various areas within the Forest Service while contributing to science in a real and valuable way,” Mesraty said.

Asking big questions can lead to big answers. For Mesraty, the answer of how to engage the public with science is by supporting and encouraging people to get involved through Lichens CitiSci. From Mesraty’s childhood questioning the world around her to a strong academic background, she hopes to continue researching lichens and finding new ways to communicate the importance of good air quality.

The U.S. Forest Service Research Participation Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.