Rachel Schwartz-Narbonne

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Dr Rachel Schwartz-Narbonne BSc, PhD, MRSC, FHEA

Senior Lecturer in Environmental Chemistry


I'm interested in a wide range of environmental chemistry. During my undergraduate at the University of Ottawa (Canada), I worked on green chemistry methods to produce nanoparticles. In PhD at the University of Western Ontario (Canada), I used carbon and nitrogen isotopes to understand the ecology of Pleistocene megafauna, such as the woolly mammoth. My post-doc at Newcastle University (UK) used lipid biomarkers to investigate the nitrogen cycle through time, from the present going back to the Jurassic.

Here at Hallam, I'm bringing my love of the environment and chemistry background to teaching a range of bioscience and chemistry classes, as well as to my research career using microbial lipid biomarkers to study wastewater and community science to study the effects of soil pollution on microbial communities.


I began my multidisciplinary chemistry career studying an Hon. B.Sc. Specialization in Chemistry at the University of Ottawa, Canada. I spent my first two summers working in the Queens Facility for Isotope Research on boron and lithium geochemistry for mineral exploration, work which led to an authorship on a refereed conference proceeding (Proceedings of the 24th International Applied Geochemistry Symposium). My next summer and my Honours project were spent in the Photochemistry laboratory researching organic functionalization and reaction kinetics of photochemically generated gold nanoparticles. This green chemistry study led to authorship on two publications (Langmuir, Pure and Applied Chemistry).

I started an MSc in Geology at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, which I then upgraded to a PhD. I applied my organic chemistry and isotopic skills to study the paleoecology of the Ice Age mammoth, a unique biome that ran from the UK to Russia, across the Bering Land Bridge, and through the Yukon and Alberta into Ontario. This vast biome had a diversity of megafaunal species including woolly mammoths, steppe bison and horses. I used stable and radiocarbon analyses of bulk protein and individual amino acids, as well as modelling in R, to understand the ecology adaptations of species in this biome (Quaternary Science Reviews, Scientific Reports).

My postdoc in organic geochemistry at Newcastle University here in the UK, further applied my bioanalytical chemistry skills, this time studying lipid biomarkers associated with the anammox bacteria "Candidatus Scalindua". These nitrogen cycle bacteria are found in modern low oxygen environments, colloquially known as 'dead zones'. The intensity of these dead zones is projected to increase with anthropogenic climate change. This study of anammox biomarkers from Oceanic Anoxic Events during the Jurassic Period will feed into nitrogen-cycle models of both the geological past and our future (Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Organic Geochemistry).

The Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University has state-of-the-art analytical chemistry facilities. These have allowed me to develop my research career by studying soil pollution in a co-designed community science project, and by studying microbial lipids in wastewater settings. This work is supported by the Community for Analytical Measurement Science, the Natural Environment Research Council, the British Mass Spectrometry Society, The Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Analytical Chemistry Trust Fund.


Department of Biosciences and Chemistry

I teach across the Department of Biosciences and Chemistry, from Foundation level to Master's students. 

Modules taught:

Chemistry: Energy and Reactions (Level 3): Lecturer
Environmental Bioscience (Level 4): Module Leader
Professional and Scientific Practice 1: Skills (Level 4): Module Leader
Concepts in Physical Chemistry (Level 4): Lecturer
Applied Ecology and Environmental Biosciences (Level 5): Lecturer
Chemistry and Society (Level 5): Lecturer
Environmental Biotechnology (Level 6): Lecturer
Frontiers of Chemical Research (Level 7): Lecturer



Biogeochemical cycles, such as the carbon and nitrogen cycles, are regulated by microorganisms. Understanding these cycles, and the roles of microbes within them, in the geological past is key to projecting our future with anthropogenic climate change. Modern human regulation of these cycles through wastewater management is key to minimizing environmental harms. However, studying these processes is complicated by a) the transient nature of biochemical intermediates (e.g., methane, ammonia), b) the minimal bacterial hard-bodied fossils, and c) the cost and complexity of metagenomic and metatranscriptomic analysis. Microbial lipidomics is ideally suited to investigate these cycles. As an Environmental Analytical Chemist, I develop and apply cutting-edge analytical techniques to investigate modern and paleo environments. 


Journal articles

Lacey, M.M., Capper-Parkin, K., Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Hargreaves, K., Higham, C., Duckett, C., ... Rawlinson, K. (2023). University student-led public engagement event: increasing audience diversity and impact in a non-science space. Access Microbiology, 5 (8). http://doi.org/10.1099/acmi.0.000534.v3

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Schaeffer, P., Lengger, S.K., Blewett, J., Martin Jones, D., Motsch, E., ... Rush, D. (2023). Bacterial physiology highlighted by the δ13C fractionation of bacteriohopanetetrol isomers. Organic Geochemistry. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2023.104617

Hopmans, E.C., Smit, N.T., Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., & Rush, D. (2021). Analysis of non-derivatized bacteriohopanepolyols using UHPLC-HRMS reveals great structural diversity in environmental lipid assemblages. Organic Geochemistry, 104285. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2021.104285

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Plint, T., Hall, E., Zazula, G., & Longstaffe, F.J. (2021). Seasonal paleoecological records from antler collagen δ13C and δ15N. Paleobiology. http://doi.org/10.1017/pab.2021.1

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Schaeffer, P., Lengger, S., Blewett, J., Jones, D.M., Motsch, E., ... Rush, D. (2021). δ13C compositions of bacteriohopanetrol isomers reveal bacterialprocesses involved in the carbon cycle. . http://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu21-8486

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Schaeffer, P., Hopmans, E.C., Schenesse, M., Alex Charlton, E., Martin Jones, D., ... Rush, D. (2020). A unique bacteriohopanetetrol stereoisomer of marine anammox. Organic Geochemistry, 103994. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2020.103994

Lengger, S.K., Rush, D., Mayser, J.P., Blewett, J., Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Talbot, H.M., ... Pancost, R.D. (2019). Dark carbon fixation in the Arabian Sea oxygen minimum zone contributes to sedimentary organic carbon (SOM). Global Biogeochemical Cycles. http://doi.org/10.1029/2019gb006282

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Schaeffer, P., Hopmans, E., Schenesse, M., Charlton, E., Jones, M., ... Lengger, S. (2019). A unique bacteriohopanetetrol stereoisomer of marine anammox. . http://doi.org/10.31223/osf.io/f26r7

Lengger, S., Rush, D., Mayser, J., Blewett, J., Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Talbot, H., ... Damste, J. (2019). Dark carbon fixation contributes to sedimentary organic carbon in the Arabian Sea oxygen minimum zone. . http://doi.org/10.31223/osf.io/76t2w

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Longstaffe, F.J., Kardynal, K.J., Druckenmiller, P., Hobson, K.A., Jass, C.N., ... Zazula, G. (2019). Reframing the mammoth steppe: Insights from analysis of isotopic niches. Quaternary Science Reviews, 215, 1-21. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.04.025

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Longstaffe, F.J., Metcalfe, J.Z., & Zazula, G. (2015). Solving the woolly mammoth conundrum: amino acid 15N-enrichment suggests a distinct forage or habitat. Scientific Reports, 5 (1). http://doi.org/10.1038/srep09791

McGilvray, K.L., Fasciani, C., Bueno-Alejo, C.J., Schwartz-Narbonne, R., & Scaiano, J.C. (2012). Photochemical strategies for the seed-mediated growth of gold and gold-silver nanoparticles. Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids, 28 (46), 16148-16155. http://doi.org/10.1021/la302814v

Scaiano, J.C., Netto-Ferreira, J.C., Alarcon, E., Billone, P., Alejo, C.J.B., Crites, C.-.O.L., ... Wee, T.-.L. (2011). Tuning plasmon transitions and their applications in organic photochemistry. Pure and Applied Chemistry, 83 (4), 913-930. http://doi.org/10.1351/pac-con-11-01-09

Conference papers

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Rush, D., Talbot, H.M., Dutton, K.E., Fender, T.D., Head, I.M., ... Jones, D.M. (2019). Thermal degradation of methylbacteriohopanepolyols to methylhopanes: Implications for sabkha as oil source rock models. 29th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry, IMOG 2019.

Schwartz-Narbonne, R., Blewett, J., Lengger, S.K., Schaeffer, P., Pancost, R., & Rush, D. (2019). Bacteriohopanepolyol analysis by gas chromatography-triple quadrupole mass spectrometry for anammox biomarker detection. 29th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry, IMOG 2019.

Internet Publications

Higham, C., Schwartz-Narbonne, R., & Lacey, M. (2024). I’m fascinated by art and science’s shared ability to record the transient. https://nowthenmagazine.com/articles/im-fascinated-by-art-and-sciences-shared-ability-to-record-the-transient-minewater

Other activities

I am passionate about increasing the accessibility of environmental science, so that people across the breath of society can imagine themselves as scientific researchers, and can imagine themselves playing a role to protect our environment. In collaboration with the Accessibility of Science Research Group in the BMRC, and with scientists from SERI, I am co-designing citizen science environmental chemistry projects with Yorkshire students and adults. These NERC- and RSC-funded projects will benefit the local community, and will be the basis of a public engagement toolkit we share with the wider scientific community.


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