James Novak

James Novak

  • Associate Professor


Dr. James “Jim” Novak Novak is considered one of the leading experts in the study of how organisms adapt and evolve in environments where they are subjected to extreme stressors. At Norwich University, he currently teaches ecology and introductory biology labs. 


Gaines, K. F., P. M. Novak and J. M. Novak. 2021. Ecological half-life of radiocesium in white-tailed deer on the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site: What can a half century of field monitoring tell us? J. Env. Rad. 235–236: 106654.

Hladilek, M.D., K.F. Gaines, J.M. Novak, D.A. Collard, D.B. Johnson and T. Canam. 2016. Microbial community structure of a lotic aquatic system receiving wastewater effluent. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. 188:626

Murray, S.M., K.F. Gaines, J.M. Novak, M. Gochfeld, and J. Burger. 2010. DNA double-strand breakage as an endpoint to examine metal and radionuclide exposure effects to water snakes on a nuclear industrial site. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment 16:282-300.

Oleksyk, T.K., J.M. Novak, J.R. Purdue, S.P. Gashchak and M.H. Smith. 2004. High levels of fluctuating asymmetry in populations of Apodemus flavicollis from the most contaminated areas in Chornobyl. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 73:1-20

Brown, S., G. Gertner, A.E. Lugo and J. Novak. 1981. Carbon dioxide dynamics of the biosphere. Pp. 19-28 in W. J. Mitsch, R. W. Bosserman and J.M. Klopatek, eds. Energy and Ecological Modeling. Elsevier, Amsterdam, Holland

Jim began his career at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (UGA-SREL) located on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (DOE-SRS). The DOE-SRS made weapons grade nuclear material, and Dr. Novak focused much of his time studying the genomic consequences of the associated contaminated ecosystems. In 1992, Jim was a member of the first United States scientific team to visit the Chornobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine. The joint agreement between UGA-SREL and the Ukrainian Ministry of Science was the first of its kind and focused on studying the ecological and genomic effects of the radiation fallout. Dr. Novak was asked to oversee the experimental design and sample quality assurance based on his statistical training and fieldwork experience. Over the next decade, he continued participating in the Chornobyl project as both a statistical consultant and as a mentor to numerous graduate students and technicians working in the UGA-SREL Molecular Ecology Laboratory. Dr. Novak was also integral in establishing the largest and longest dataset of radiological measurements in a free-living population of mammals and has been asked by the USDOE to maintain its scientific integrity. This dataset, which monitors the uptake and depuration of radiocesium in white-tailed deer has been used as a template by scientific agencies around the world.

Dr. Novak’s experience in proteomics led to his involvement as an expert consultant for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation of the damage associated to the LCP Superfund site near Brunswick Georgia. Dr. Novak developed a refined laboratory and statistical protocol for assessing DNA double strand breakage as an exposure/effect endpoint. The improved laboratory protocol involved the use of Pulsed-Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) instead of standard electrophoresis and the statistical design involved a hierarchical replication protocol to assess laboratory/handling induced DNA breakage. This was the first time such a quantitative measure was used in a Superfund case. These innovations were utilized in numerous student projects associated with this project and then applied to other Superfund sites on the SRS.

Using these methods, Dr. Novak went on to develop whole organism effects measures through the fusion of geometric morphometrics techniques with a statistically rigorous assessment of organismal asymmetries. These measures have been used in numerous radioecological studies in both Chernobyl and Fukashima studies addressing ecological, evolutionary, and toxicological dynamics. These interests carried through his faculty career where he helped develop competitive ELISA protocols for quantifying the metabolites of herbicides as well as estrogens and their derivatives. This research led to developing a USEPA funded apprentice program for wastewater treatment for both undergraduate and graduate students to become certified operators leading to direct job placement. Building upon his expertise in proteomics and statistics, he developed a genomics-based approach for assessing bacterial diversity as a water quality assessment index for wastewater treatment plants using Illumina Next-Generation Sequencers as well as bioinformatics protocols to develop locationally specific bacterial community profiles.

When Dr. Novak was faculty at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he leveraged his experience to help develop several research partnerships with NASA and their academic consortiums. Partnering with NASA Johnson Space Center/Wyle Labs microbiology team, he helped develop protocols to distinguish community structure and dynamics in extremophiles resulting in his contribution at SpaceCom 2018 in Houston on an expert panel addressing “Microbes: The Effect on Humans and the Environment.” Dr. Novak established ERAU’s educational cooperative agreement integrating bioinformatic training protocols with the NASA GeneLab team charged with the development and maintenance of the NASA GeneLab Omics database for spaceflight experiments. As part of this endeavor, he participated in the NASA GeneLab RNAseq Bootcamp which was a joint venture between NASA Ames Research Center and San Jose State University and is currently developing a similar bootcamp at ERAU that includes K-12 outreach. This partnership has led to the development of ERAU’s Space Omics lab to develop sequencing and omics sample processing for research and industry clients.