Helen Poynton

Dr. Helen Poynton is an Associate Professor of Ecotoxicology & Undergraduate Program Director in the School for the Environment at UMass Boston. She holds BS in biochemistry from Temple University and studied molecular toxicology for her PhD at UC Berkeley, where she developed novel, genomic-based tools to detect contaminant exposures.  She worked as post-doc at the US Environmental Protection Agency to develop molecular based tools to understand the exposure and effects of nanomaterials and joined the faculty of UMass Boston in 2010.

Dr. Poynton’s research focuses on a broad range of emerging contaminants including pharmaceuticals, nanomaterials, and pesticides. Within these chemical classes she is interested in applying genomics to better understand sub-lethal effects of environmental pollutants and the consequences of adaptation to pollution.  She led a multi-investigator team to sequence the genome of an important sediment dwelling animal, Hyalella azteca, and published a well-received genome paper in 2018. She has recently been involved with collaborative initiatives to identify ways evolution can inform risk assessment and better bridge the disciplines of evolution and toxicology. She is also a co-PI on a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Project in Vieques, PR where she will apply her molecular experience to uncover past pollution exposures. Her research has been funded broadly by the National Science Foundation, US EPA, NOAA SeaGrant, and California Fish and Wildlife.

In addition to her research, Dr. Poynton teaches courses in Global Environmental Change, Marine Pollution, and Environmental Toxicology.  She is also the director of the Coastal Research in Environmental Science and Technology (CREST) Research Experience for Undergraduates program at UMass Boston.  She believes that providing students with hand-on, authentic research experiences as undergraduates is instrumental to diversifying STEM. 


Dr. Poynton was nominated for the SAB by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.