Ruth Sofield

Professor; Chair of Environmental Sciences Department · she/her/hers


I am an environmental toxicology and chemistry Professor from the Environmental Sciences Department at WWU. I have a BA in Biology, MS in Environmental Science, an MS and Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering (Ph.D. research work conducted with the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research), and a post-doc in radiochemistry. I have mentored >80 undergraduate senior thesis/projects, >150 capstone projects or other significant research experiences, and 14 MS theses. My research focuses on bioavailability, freshwater and marine ecotoxicity, and chemistry of environmental contaminants, including metals, PAHs, and Contaminants of Emerging Concern. I am a Marine and Coastal Science (MACS) affiliated faculty and a member of the Puget Sound Partnership Science Panel.

As a teacher and a mentor, I try to make opportunities available to the students I work with. In some cases this is as simple as advising them of an AWMA club activity or a summer research program they can apply for and making sure I spend enough time understanding their strengths and goals before writing reference letters for them. In other cases, I help guide and support independent research for undergraduate students. The projects may be the student’s idea or they conduct research that supports my work or graduate students’ work. I try to connect students with professionals by encouraging presentations at conferences and the WWU poster fair, attendance at career panels, becoming members of professional organizations, and dinners with on-campus visitors. I work with the Department of Ecology to provide learning and research opportunities about contaminated site cleanups in Washington State and have several other projects that undergraduate students work on.  My graduate students get the same encouragement and support for pursuing opportunities. In the end, I believe this is the way to discover where true interests lay, to find who colleagues are, and to advance in chosen professional fields.


PhD and MS Environmental Science & Engineering, Colorado School of Mines; MS Environmental Science, McNeese State University; BA Biology, West Virginia University

Research Interests

I am most interested in research at the intersection of environmental chemistry and toxicology. My educational background has led me here with degrees and research experiences in biology, environmental science, toxicology, and environmental chemistry. My students and I use both laboratory and fieldwork in our research; the laboratory studies let us answer specific questions in a controlled setting, while the fieldwork is where the application of that work occurs. The majority of our work has focused on the impacts of aquatic chemistry on metal toxicity in aquatic environments. Most recently, we have been working on understanding the risk associated with contaminants of emerging concern in Puget Sound, microplastics and tire wear particle toxicity and chemistry, and metals associated with air pollution. Collaborations have included scientists from the government, private, and university sectors.