Professor Robert Delatolla is an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa. He received his Ph.D. from the Department of Chemical Engineering at McGill University. During his Ph.D. work, Professor Delatolla modified and used molecular and microscopic techniques to investigate the microbiome of wastewater treatment biofilms. His research endeavours include collaborative ventures with industrial and municipal partners. Professor Delatolla’s current research is focused on critical water, stormwater and wastewater issues. His expertise lies in biological treatment with a focus on the characterisation and optimization of biofilm technologies. He has particular interest in developing understanding at the meso, micro and molecular-scale to improve the design and operation of engineered treatment systems. Professor Delatolla is currently working on understanding hydrogen sulfide production in wet stormwater ponds; characterising biofilms in water and wastewater treatment systems; optimization of advanced and hybrid biofilm treatment systems; ammonia removal at cold temperatures by moving bed biofilm reactors; biological treatment of industrial wastewater; biofiltration performance as a means of disinfection by-product removal and optimization of anaerobic digestion.
Read his Emerging Investigators article “Hydrogen sulfide production in municipal stormwater retention ponds under ice covered conditions: a study of water quality and SRB populations” and find out more about his research in the interview below:
Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology focuses on hydrogen sulphide production in ice covered stormwater retention ponds. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?
This article is the research team’s first publication on hydrogen sulphide production in stormwater retention ponds. We have prepared and submitted a second article focussing on the hydraulics and wind effects on hydrogen sulphide production in stormwater retention ponds. Further, we are preparing a third article on the sediment kinetics and the link to sulphate production in stormwater ponds. Hence, this article presents a fundamental study that is built upon to provide a holistic view of hydrogen sulphide production in stormwater ponds.
What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
The integration of the water quality and microbial community data to gain a thorough understanding of these systems at both warm and cold operational conditions was perhaps most interesting for the research team. Through this interdisciplinary research approach, the study was able to confirm that sulphide production resulted from increased ubiquitous sulphate reducing bacteria activity at hypoxic conditions as opposed to the proliferation or a population shift towards a specific bacterial population
In your opinion, what is the biggest impact to the environment presented by H2S production and how much to stormwater retention ponds contribute to this?
Although the emission of hydrogen sulphide gas from stormwater retention ponds is currently rare, the need to understand the design elements that result in these events is necessary as hydrogen sulphide is toxic to the environment, aquatic life and humans. In particular, the recent popularity of retention ponds along with the implication of climate change that lead to increased risk of larger rain events are influencing current guidelines related to the design of stormwater retention ponds. Hence, young and future systems are at an increased risk of hydrogen sulphide production and emission. We hope that our work provides the fundamental knowledge necessary to mitigate the risk to hydrogen sulphide emission from these systems in the future.
What do you find most challenging about your research?
All research is challenging, however in this study the lack of current knowledge regarding hydrogen sulphide production in stormwater ponds required multiple aspects of the studies stormwater ponds to be investigated concurrently. This included the water quality of the pond and the microbial community of the sediment. This challenge was met by forming a multidisciplinary research team to work on the research project.
In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?
I participate as often as I can at IWA conferences, in particular the Microbial Ecology and Water Engineering (MEWE) and Nutrient Removal and Recovery conferences, WEFTEC and the local Canadian Association of Water Quality (CAWQ) and Canadian Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) conferences.
How do you spend your spare time?
Spare time is not always easy to square away, but every chance I get I just like to spend time with my family and friends…and of course watch some Game of Thrones.
Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?
Perhaps a chef, but that may just be my love of eating.
Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
My path as a researcher has taught me that there is a lag between your hard work and the fruition of your labour. Patience is definitely required.