By Sherry DiBari

For Kameron King, "lab life" came naturally.

As a young girl, she once took a piece of cheese out the refrigerator and left it in her backpack - just to see what would happen.

"I thought it was supposed to get moldy," she said. "Unfortunately, it was Velveeta cheese, so nothing actually happened."

The experiment didn't deter King, however.

In December, after a collegiate career spent in science labs, she will walk across the commencement stage with a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from Old Dominion University.

King, who grew up in Richmond and Henrico, always loved science and chemistry.

After high school, she double majored in chemistry and environmental science and policy at the College of William & Mary. During her time there, she investigated mercury levels in fish in the Chesapeake Bay with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

King continued with her masters in geography and environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Her focus was on algae cultivation, biofuels and renewable energy.

It was a natural transition to engineering at ODU for her doctoral work.

"I started from chemistry and jumped into engineering to think about how we can make changes for the environment on a larger scale," she said.

King chose ODU not only for the focus in biofuels and waste management, but also for the support system.

"When you apply for a Ph.D., it's really about the professor and the advisor, and who's going to support you the most," she said. "I really found that in Dr. (Sandeep) Kumar.

"That is really what influenced my decision to come to ODU."

King's doctoral research focused on a holistic way to treat landfill waste to be both pre-processed to mitigate harmful methane from reaching the atmosphere and also converted to energy as a biomass fuel.

Her dissertation targeted the integration of two processes: hydrothermal carbonization, a water-based process that breaks down landfill waste, and anaerobic digestion, a method of converting waste to biogas energy.

"This could be a more environmentally sustainable way to treat our waste," she said. "Because the methane or the biogas is going to be produced anyway, why can't we control it and actually use it for energy?"

Kumar, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Biomass Research Laboratory and the Batten College of Engineering and Technology Energy Cluster, noted King's dedication.

"Kameron aims to serve the community and contribute toward a sustainable future," he said. "I am really proud of her research work and achievements during her doctoral studies."

On the side, King runs a business called Black Girl Scientist, an organization established "for the encouragement, uplifting, presence and knowledge of young women and girls."

"I think anyone can identify with being a scientist," she said. "You don't necessarily have to be in scientific lab to carry out your purpose in life. Whether you are a stylist, or a cook or chef ... as long as you are doing your God-given purpose in life."

Down the road she has bigger plans.

"My big goal is to own my own state-of-the art laboratory testing facility where people who look like me can say, 'I can do this as well,' and I can offer people advice and support based off my experiences as an African-American woman in these fields," she said.

King's next move is to Washington, D.C., where she already has a position in the food waste reduction office at the Environmental Protection Agency. The job is a direct extension of her doctoral work.

"I'll be helping to divert the food waste that we have going to the landfill, which is actually even more detrimental than the mixed waste in our environment," she said.

"I'm super blessed. It really is the perfect position."

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