Meet Mike Atkinson, a researcher with the Bondville Environmental and Atmospheric Research Site at the Illinois State Water Survey. Atkinson recently answered a few questions about his career at ISWS following his retirement from the Illinois State Police department.
In one sentence, what do you do?
I am responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Bondville Environmental and Atmospheric
How does your work at the Water Survey impact Illinois?
The BEARS facility provides environmental measurements and samples. ISWS scientists and researchers
from places such as US EPA, NOAA, NASA, and other organizations and universities use data from the
Bondville site for a variety of long-term research projects not just in Illinois, but all over the world.
What is your educational background/area(s) of expertise?
I have an AAS in Law Enforcement Administration, a BA in Sociology - Criminal Justice, and a Master of
Public Administration. I retired from the Illinois State Police in 2018 as Master Sergeant. I supervised an
investigative unit responsible for cases of violent crime, public integrity, and clandestine
What is the best part of your job at the Water Survey?
No 3:00 AM call-outs. Really the best part about this job is this job. I work part-time with a flexible
schedule, so that’s a plus, but everything I do here feels like it is important. It really became apparent
during the initial COVID-19 shutdown when researchers who use this site would say we may be
collecting data the likes of which have not been seen since before the industrial revolution. I don't know
how scientifically accurate that is, but it sure brings up food for thought.
What work/project/outcome are you most proud of?
I'm quite proud when I read the yearly data summaries and I see that the ISWS Bondville site is one of
the longest-running monitoring sites in the country. The big picture illustrates the value of long-term
monitoring and forward thinking.
What are common misconceptions about your field? OR What question do you get asked most
frequently about your career or the subject you study?
The question I get asked the most is ... What exactly do you do? The best answer is ... You know when
you're watching a movie and a group of scientists are at a research site in the jungle or in the Arctic
(Bondville can feel like both), and they are trying to figure out how some combination of solar radiation,
climate change, and an ill wind brought a zombie-predator dinosaur to life? And there is always one guy
in the background walking around working on the equipment, changing filters, and collecting samples?
Well, I'm that guy. My daughter says he's the first one to get eaten.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I've always been interested in science, mechanics, and electronics. My original intention was to major in
Industrial Technology, but I was really drawn to law enforcement. A career in law enforcement is
continuing education. With the right attitude and aptitude, and in the right organization, the lessons and
opportunities for growth are everywhere. I've spent a lot of time at crime scenes, and while nothing
replaces good old-fashioned gum-shoe work, forensic science is amazing. I was fortunate to be in the
Illinois State Police, and to work with some of the most talented people I've ever known. I valued ISP
Crime Scene Investigators because their training was the best in the field. I thought of them as scientists
in uniform. I also worked a lot of clandestine meth lab investigations. The human side of meth lab
investigation covers infuriating to heart-breaking, but the scientific side was sort of a relief from all that.
Dismantling a meth lab is a very exacting process, involving specialized training in the collection and disposal
of hazardous or contaminated materials, with meticulous documentation and detailed reports. The
evidentiary work would make or break a case, and I found the effort interesting and satisfying. That
brings me full circle to the work I do at Bondville. It is a lot of troubleshooting equipment problems and
detailed sample collection, but I find it interesting and satisfying.
What else would you like to share about your work at the Water Survey?
I’ve spent an entire career in a good organization with good leadership, good people, and a good
mission. I can honestly say I have had the same experience in the Illinois State Water Survey.