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2021 Winners

First Place:  Sarah Brunswick, PFAS Are Forever: Why Unregulated Agricultural Water Is Not a Girl’s Best Friend

Second Place:  Kole Lyons, Fresh from the Freezer: Exploring the "Knead" for Transparent Bread Labeling

The Ross-Blakley Law Library at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is pleased to announce the 2021 recipients of the Ross-Blakley Law Library Award for Exemplary Student Research.

Sarah Brunswick is the first-place award recipient for her paper: PFAS Are Forever: Why Unregulated Agricultural Water Is Not a Girl’s Best Friend. Brunswick is a second-year student. Kole Lyons is the second-place winner for his paper: Fresh from the Freezer: Exploring the "Knead" for Transparent Bread Labeling. Lyons is also second- year student.

Their papers demonstrate sophistication and originality in the use of research materials, exceptional innovation in research strategy, and skillful synthesis of research results into a comprehensive scholarly analysis.  A review panel comprised of librarians Beth DiFelice and Tara Mospan and Clinical Professor Kimberly Holst selected the winners from a number of very competitive entries.

Brunswick credit’s her paper topic to a friend’s mother who was deeply concerned that her Teflon pans were killing the family’s outdoor-only, adopted desert tortoise. Much of her research process was two-fold: (1) dive into chemistry and research data to explain why PFAS are so handy and so harmful, and (2) use real-word examples and stories to help a reader navigate through a jargon-heavy topic. She read studies of fecal excretion of PFAS in pets and narrative stories of night schoolteachers in West Virginia. As she read through corporate websites for chemical industry titans like 3M and DuPont, she asked herself how their public relations initiatives synced up with EPA actions. Brunswick learned that both traditional academic scholarship (with its paywalls) and open-source scientific journals (often paginated like a discrete PDF) can be problematic. She also met a formidable and unexpected opponent in a byproduct of electing a new president: website overhauls.

Brunswick’s favorite self-imposed hunt was for the length of the Colorado River from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park to Lake Havasu, where two major canals divert the river to farmers and cities in Southern Arizona and California. She was able to quickly find that the river is roughly 1,450 miles long. From there, she combed through Google Maps and other sources, trying to estimate the distance to the Arizona border. In consultation with her significant other, who is the son of a retired river guide, she then turned to “river miles.” Brunswick says this was a treasure trove, as she was able to locate rafting guides and a Bureau of Reclamation document reporting river miles across the entire Lower Colorado River, starting at Lee’s Ferry and ending at the Arizona–Mexico border. She now knew the total length of the river, the length of the U.S. portion of the Lower Colorado, and the distance from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Havasu. What she couldn’t find is if the total river length accounted for the river actually reaching the Sea of Cortez or if it recognized that river flows into Mexico are often a trickle. Because the latter is the unfortunate reality, she treated the river as stopping at the border. Then, she did some math:

1,450 mi [total length] – 689 mi [Lower Basin] = 761 mi [Upper Colorado River+Mexico]

761 mi [Upper Colorado River] + 495 [Lee’s Ferry to Lake Havasu] = 1,256 mi

Brunswick knew that the Colorado River courses roughly 1,250 miles from its headwaters before the major diversions at Lake Havasu. This number was important because it captures just how much opportunity there is for PFAS pollution before water even enters a drinking water well or irrigates a food crop. It captures a key point: the PFAS problem is a watershed problem.

An indication of Brunswick’s exceptional research skills was her use of a wide variety of resources for her paper including scientific and legal research resources. She used real-world examples to motivate her research and to grab her audience’s interest.

Our second-place winner, Kole Lyons, worked as a made-from-scratch baker for a locally owned grocery store before attending law school. He says he grew to love baking and learning more about the science behind it. Yet, he always questioned when he would go into the freezer, pull out a product, and label it as “fresh.” Through his paper, Lyons was able to explore not only the science behind baking but also food regulation in the United States. Research for his paper took Lyons to many different sources all around the world. He started with statutes and session laws, then the Code of Federal Regulations and Federal Register. From there, he searched case law and administrative hearings to learn about the history of food regulation. This topic has not been heavily litigated, so Lyons had to broaden his searches to find unpublished court documents. Even then, he came up with only two decisions.

Lyons then moved on to legal scholarship. Lyons’ says: Bread regulation is a very narrow field, so I drew analogies to the much larger movement trying to define the word “natural” on food labels. I combed through news articles, books, journal articles, and consumer polls to establish a foundation for modern consumer trends. With this foundation, I moved into the scientific portion of the paper.  He points out many foreign countries take the science of baking more seriously than the United States, so primarily, the studies he found originated in Greece, Spain, or China. This portion of the research required that he analyze different non-legal studies’ findings to support his thesis.

Finally, in crafting his recommendation, he researched foreign regulations to determine how other countries regulate baked goods. This research included European Union guidelines, cases from the European Union Court of Justice, Italian Regulations, and foreign news outlets. Lyons says: The best part of writing this paper was that I combined history, legal research, and scientific research. I looked at the history of food regulation, applied facts to court precedents, learned more about bread-making science.

Lyons’ breadth and depth of resources he cites points to his highly evolved research skills. His broad research reach was critical to his findings and recommendations.