"Who pooped in the water?" is a question usually reserved for public pools or stand-up comedy.

Lauren Brooks is devoting a great deal of her time and energy studying a problem that is much more serious and widespread than some may believe. Her research originally stemmed from a concern that there was not always an effective way to differentiate between sources of fecal contamination.

Lauren is surprisingly quick to smile about a topic that can make many cringe in disgust. She works in the field of microbial source tracking in polluted waters, studying the severity of fecal contamination in areas usually considered to be safe. As a researcher, she speaks frankly and passionately about what she's doing.

The implications are clear to Lauren. "This is something that causes sickness and closes businesses," she says. "The first step toward resolving the problem is to discover its cause."

Beyond her research, Lauren intends to one day be a professor so that she can foster in others the same love of learning that has driven her for most of her life. After growing up in rural West Virginia, she sees education as way to improve her life and circumstances, and is thankful for the emphasis her family placed on learning. "I'm getting a PhD because I want to be the person designing the studies. I want to do new things, ask new questions, and teach others to do the same. I can go out and see kids swimming in a really dirty area and think, 'that's why I'm doing this. Someday I want to fix this.'"

To learn more about research at Oregon State University, visit science.oregonstate.edu/research