Archive for the ‘Emerging Investigators’ Category

Emerging Investigator Series – Robert Delatolla

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.

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Emerging Investigator Series: John-David Rocha and Reginald Rogers

John-David R. Rocha is an Assistant Professor in the School of Chemistry and Materials Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. His research focus is in the area of nanotechnology as a physical / analytical / materials chemist, more specifically, in the use of nanomaterials in energy, electronics, and environmental science. He utilizes his expertise in the areas of carbon nanomaterials characterization to expand areas of fundamental understanding in carbon nanotubes and graphenes, keenly working to tie the acquired knowledge to the application needs of the chemical and engineering industries. He received his BS and MS degrees in Chemistry from the University of North Texas in 1995 and 2002, respectively. Following his PhD in 2008 from Rice University, he was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Prior to arriving at RIT, Dr. Rocha was a Research Scientist at SouthWest NanoTechnologies Inc. where, among other responsibilities, he led a $1.1M joint collaboration between SWeNT and a major electronics corporation to develop semiconducting SWCNT inks for thin film transistor applications. His doctoral and postdoctoral research focused on optical spectroscopic characterization of carbon-based nanomaterials including carbon nanotubes and metal organic frameworks. Rocha’s chemical research experience also includes work in gas-phase chemical kinetics of atmospheric and combustion chemistry and computational chemistry studies of organometallics. He is a member of the American Chemical Society and also participates regularly in activities with the MRS, AAAS, and the Society for the Advancement of Chicano and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Prior to returning to full-time chemical research in 2003, Rocha taught secondary Mathematics and Chemistry in the large urban school district of Dallas, TX, his hometown.

Reginald Rogers is an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  He is head of the Nanoscale Energy and Separation Materials Laboratory (NESML).  Dr. Rogers and his group have been involved in a variety of projects investigating the separation of organic and inorganic compounds from aqueous environments using carbon-based nanomaterials.  Dr. Rogers also has projects focused on the development of cathode materials for sodium ion batteries.  He has served as a co-author on over 20 research papers and has presented at many national conferences.  Dr. Rogers recently received several awards, including the 2015 Joseph N. Cannon Award in Chemical Engineering from the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, and the 2016 Richard and Virginia Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from RIT.

Read their Emerging Investigators article Highly Effective Adsorption of Organic Aromatic Molecules from Aqueous Environments by Electronically Sorted SingleWalled Carbon Nanotubes and find out more about their work in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology focuses on single-walled carbon nanotubes, and the influence of chirality on their performance for water remediation applications. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Reginald: In 2011, we had a premise that carbon nanotubes could be used in water treatment applications, but never had a complete picture on their promise.  The initial results, published in Chemical Engineering Journal, laid the foundation for further expansion on the subject.  In 2013, we reported on a novel technique for using hybrid structures, which significantly improved the adsorption uptake capacity.  With this knowledge, my group published 5 other publications to further develop and clarify the adsorption behavior in batch and fixed bed systems.  This new paper on using sorted carbon nanotubes by chirality provides another stepping stone towards the development of 3-D adsorption architectures for filtration systems.  The hope is to take this knowledge and continue the growth of this fairly new adsorbent in water treatment applications. 

John-David: My work with single-walled carbon nanotubes began back in 2003 with my primary expertise developed in the use of novel optical spectroscopic techniques for characterization. Following the establishment of new spectrofluorimetric analytical methods, I demonstrated the application of the techniques to study chirality specific reactivities to solve important early questions of single-walled carbon nanotube chemistry. Interestingly, these studies illustrated how early cursory studies of carbon nanotubes can be impacted by material variability and control of experimental conditions. It was with these studies between 2003 to 2008, followed by my growth of research experience in SWCNT separations work, that I developed the knowledge to partner with Dr. Rogers in broadening his exciting research in applying carbon nanotubes to water treatment applications.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Reginald: I am most excited about the opportunity for translating our results from the past research efforts into actual systems (e.g. mocked up water filtration system) to see what an end user would see from an engineered product solution standpoint.  This will calibrate us to other focus areas that may be needed to further enhance this particular type of adsorbent.

John-David: The most exciting aspects of my carbon nanomaterials research at the moment are seeing the growth opportunities in novel, unexplored application areas like environmental science and water remediation.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge in using nanotubes as an adsorbent in environmental systems?

Reginald: I would say that biggest challenge in using nanotubes as an adsorbent in environmental systems is being able to demonstrate their reusability on the long-range scale.  One of the biggest debates around nanomaterials is their end of life attributes.  It is my belief that we can overcome the fears of increasing toxicity levels from nanomaterials by continually exploring how to recycle these materials for reuse by the end user. 

John-David: This question dovetails into the next, but essentially the biggest challenge is the intrinsic variability of carbon nanotube materials, both single- and multi-walled. These variations arise from the different large-scale production and processing techniques. Ultimately, determining how the variations can affect results in applications like adsorption of environmental pollutants can sometimes be more difficult relative to the potential advantages gained.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Reginald: The most challenging thing about my research is focusing on how to drive down the costs associated with material development of these carbon nanotube-based adsorbents.  A major hurdle in the rapid expansion of this type of adsorbent is driven by scale-up.  Given the wide variability in carbon nanotube synthesis and purification techniques, it is not as straightforward as one might expect to simply produce bulk quantities of this type of adsorbent with a small degree in variation from one batch to another.  As my group continues to develop these adsorbents, we are constantly looking for ways to minimize variability in synthesis techniques.

John-David: I would strongly concur with Dr. Rogers in his summary of the challenging aspects with respect to carbon nanomaterials research. More broadly, it is extremely difficult to demonstrate the ability to scale bench-top research results to actual real-world application level results. Quite often the disconnect between published results to the production level end-user application goals is too great to overcome. The challenge is to continually find ways to answer the important questions that can help close or reduce these gaps.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

Reginald: I will be attending the 2017 Gordon Research Conference on Environmental Nanotechnology in Stowe, VT June 18th-23rd.  I will also be at the 2017 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, MN October 29th-November 3rd.

John-David: I will be attending the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting in Washington, DC August 20 – 24 and the ACS Northeast Regional Meeting in October 2017.

How do you spend your spare time?

Reginald: I am typically spending my time traveling to new locations, reading books, or staying in shape at the gym.

John-David: I enjoy spending time with my family, volunteering in the community, participating in church activities, reading books, and exercising.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

Reginald: Since I love to travel, I would say I would choose to be travel agent or food connoisseur.

John-David: I was a high school chemistry teacher for a number of years, so it’s hard to speak of a profession that doesn’t fall within the broad context of the STEM fields. Potential non-chemistry related professions might be medical doctor/surgeon or a computer programmer.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Reginald: Find balance in how your handle your workload.  Don’t go overboard with trying to do everything at one time.  Be willing to say “no” when the going gets tough.  This will help you maintain sanity as you navigate all of your responsibilities.

John-David: Find like-minded colleagues to communicate with regarding all aspects of life, not exclusive to, but in particular those areas outside of research and teaching, including family life, recreation, and social areas. Also don’t sacrifice your personal life, particularly family, for your career.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Joseph Kasprzyk

Joseph Kasprzyk, Assistant Professor of Civil and Architectural Engineering.

Joseph Kasprzyk is an assistant professor in the Civil Environmental and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.  His research focuses on advancing multi-objective decision making and model diagnostics for water resources and environmental engineering problems.  Recent research projects in his group include stakeholder engagement for water resources management in the Front Range of Colorado, creating a framework for improved water quality under extreme climate events, and analysing the air quality and public health impacts of unconventional oil and gas development.  He is the recipient of the Universities Council on Water Resources dissertation award and the Early Career Research Excellence award from the International Environmental Modelling and Software Society.  Kasprzyk earned his PhD from the Pennsylvania State University.

Read Joseph’s Emerging Investigators review of Decision support systems for water treatment: making the case for incorporating climate change and climate extremes and find out more about his work in the interview below:

How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?

When I started my research career, my research adviser Prof. Pat Reed and I started a productive collaboration with Prof. Greg Characklis at the University of North Carolina.  Greg had some innovative ideas on risk-based decision making for water resources systems, such as using thresholds and probabilistic modelling to inform utilities on how to make their water supply have a higher reliability (i.e. meeting demands and maintaining supply levels).  In my own research I worked on new methods for multi-objective decision making for these systems.  Later, we would also collaborate with researchers at RAND corporation on how to bring robust decision making techniques to bear on these problems, coupling them with multi-objective optimization.

In my more recent papers, we have worked on a diverse set of problems with these techniques including a multi-reservoir water resources system in Texas and groundwater contamination remediation.  I’ve also worked on a set of projects that seeks to continue advancing the methodology of multi-objective optimization, such as exploring the impact of problem formulation on the solutions generated from optimization (e.g., what is the influence of constraints on the solutions from decision support).  Of course, we are quite excited about the work published in Environmental Science: Water Research and Technology, where we have provided a critical review of how some of the water resources research that we have done can inform and advance the study of source water quality and water treatment.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

There are many reasons to be excited when studying environmental engineering and decision making these days!

There is a growing community working on these problems, as evidenced by a new Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty, as well as a burgeoning community in Water and Society at the American Geophysical Union.  It is exciting to have more people joining the conversation and bringing in new ideas.

The proliferation of scientific tools, programming languages, and technologies is making it easier to share decision support systems with students, analysts, as well as decision makers and stakeholders themselves.  However, this opportunity also means that we need to keep educating people as to how to properly use scientific and engineering techniques to come to the proper conclusion about their systems.  For example, in the past, it might have been possible to only run a small number of computer simulations to understand the performance of a system, but with high performance computing systems as well as cloud services, the possibilities are now being greatly expanded.

I’m excited to continue pursuing work directly with stakeholders and decision makers, which helps us learn how to improve our tools to have greater applicability, as well as disseminate our scientific findings within the community to guide their activities.  My work in this area has been greatly aided by Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Water Research Foundation, an organization that has a great relationship with water utilities around the country.

In your opinion, what is the most concerning impact associated with your work?

Our critical review paper suggests that although scientists are gaining a good understanding of how climate change impacts the quantity of water in our supply systems, the relationship between climate change and water quality is more complex and not as well understood.  The complexity of decision support for water treatment, as well as the wide variety of models and techniques used within the field, is exciting, but potentially overwhelming for stakeholders and users in the field.  So we are happy that we were able to share our findings in the journal so that our review can be a resource for researchers to continue their important work in the future.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The project team on this paper is an interesting mix of hydrologists, environmental chemists, and water resources engineers.  The terminology used within these fields is not always consistent, but what was even more challenging was that the terminology within the research articles that we reviewed was even less consistent.  This is one of the main reasons why one of the recommendations we made is for a standardization of terminology in order to improve communication in this important field.  The lead author of the paper, William Raseman, did a great job in culling all the information and I hope it came through in the final manuscript.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

My group typically attends the American Geophysical Union fall meeting (in December of every year) and the American Society of Civil Engineers Environmental Water Resources Institute meeting (in May or June every year).  I am also proud to be a member of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, and I look forward to their conference in June 2017.

How do you spend your spare time?

Boulder, Colorado is a great place to do outdoor activities, and I enjoy hiking, jogging, and horseback riding.  Music is also an important part of my life, and I enjoy going to concerts as well as playing several instruments such as the guitar and piano.  Ben Livneh, one of my co-authors on this paper, is also an avid guitarist himself, and we have made music together in addition to publishing.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

One of my favourite parts about being a professor is in interacting with students, other researchers, and the general public.  So, if I were to choose another profession I would want it to be one that includes a lot of communication and public outreach!

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

The most rewarding part of my career so far has been in working with smart people with diverse interests, that allow us to expand our approaches into new areas.  For example, I am beginning a new US National Science Foundation-funded project this year that seeks to advance the design of sustainable building materials, in collaboration with Profs. Wil Srubar and Leah Sprain at the University of Colorado Boulder.  So, when starting your career, don’t be afraid to pursue new lines of inquiry and get out of your comfort zone.  In addition to opening up new research opportunities, it might teach you something about your own area at the same time.  Also, make sure that you are enjoying your work and having fun.  Being able to enjoy the research that you are doing comes through in the quality of the finished product.

 

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Emerging Investigator Series: Damian Helbling

Damian Helbling, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE).

Damian E. Helbling is an Assistant Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. His research focuses on the relationship between human social and technological development and the quality of freshwater resources, with a particular interest in the occurrence and fate of anthropogenic organic chemicals in natural and engineered water systems. He received a B.S. in civil engineering from Penn State University along with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in civil and environmental engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. He spent five years as a postdoctoral research associate at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) prior to his arrival at Cornell in 2014.

Read Damian’s Emerging Investigators review on the Prioritization of suspect hits in a sensitive suspect screening workflow for comprehensive micropollutant characterization in environmental samples and find out more about his work in the interview below:

How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?

The consistent theme throughout my research career has been my interest in water. I was motivated to pursue an academic career by my fascination with water and a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that drive changes in water quality that may ultimately influence the health of aquatic ecosystems or exposed human populations. My first publications as a graduate student focused on describing new approaches to monitor water quality in drinking water distribution systems in real-time to provide early warning of microbial contamination events. My work has evolved since then to focus more on the occurrence and transformation of anthropogenic organic chemicals throughout the entire urban water cycle.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

I am generally excited about the opportunities I have to contribute to the academic culture at Cornell University as both a teacher and a researcher. With respect to research, I am excited about the progress we have made in developing techniques using high-resolution mass spectrometry to more comprehensively assess chemical occurrence in water samples (i.e. environmental forensics) and to elucidate structures of unknown chemicals resulting from chemical or biological transformations (i.e. environmental metabolomics). We use these techniques to improve our fundamental understanding of chemical fate, but also to inform the development of new treatment technologies that may contribute to the removal of trace organic chemicals from water and wastewater.   

How can the accuracy of characterising the occurrence of micropollutants in environmental samples be improved?

The goal of the research described in our manuscript was to develop a suspect screening method that was as accurate as possible in characterizing the occurrence of micropollutants in environmental samples. We achieved that goal, but by aiming for high accuracy, we sacrificed precision. The vision for suspect screening should be towards the development of methods that maximize both accuracy and precision. Fortunately, there is a growing group of scientists working hard towards developing better tools to manipulate large full-scan mass spectral data acquisitions, to predict retention times and MS2 fragmentation patterns of suspect chemicals, and to collect and store mass spectra of large numbers of chemicals as a resource for the research community. Advances in these areas are expected to improve both the accuracy and precision of data-processing pipelines aimed at characterizing the occurrence of micropollutants in a variety of environmental samples.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

A big challenge is understanding the link between a complex characterization of chemical constituents in a water sample and the concomitant risk of those chemical constituents to aquatic ecosystem or human health. We are developing relationships with aquatic ecologists and environmental toxicologists to help us place the results of our work into a health-based context. It is imperative to link exposure and risk to help inform the conversation on regulatory decision making and future urban water policy.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I am fond of the Gordon Research Conference on Environmental Sciences: Water and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) Research and Education Conference. These conferences are held every other year in alternating summers, so I plan to attend these conferences regularly. I am also an active participant at American Chemical Society (ACS) conferences and try to attend at least one of the national meetings each year. 

 How do you spend your spare time?

I have a lot of hobbies and wish I had more spare time to dedicate to those activities! I enjoy the outdoors and spend a lot of time cycling or hiking in the natural areas around Cornell and the Finger Lakes region of New York State. I am also a bit of an audiophile and have a modest collection of vinyl and digital recordings and a handful of acoustic instruments that have lamentably become somewhat neglected in recent years!

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I am passionate about both teaching and research, so I could see myself focusing on a career in education irrespective of my interests in scientific research. If I were to switch gears all together, I can imagine myself as a small-business entrepreneur. I have been known to daydream about concepts for new types of shops or cafes and could see myself enjoying the challenge of building a small-business in an exotic location!

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Seize the opportunities that come your way.

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Emerging Investigators Series: Haizhou Liu

Dr Haizhou Liu, University of California, Riverside

Dr Haizhou Liu is an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Riverside. He received his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from University of Washington in 2010, and has a M.S. in Civil Engineering from University of Washington and B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Sichuan University, China. Prior to joining UC Riverside, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley for two years on soil remediation projects. Haizhou’s research interests include water chemistry, colloidal metal behavior and redox chemistry in drinking water, water reuse and treatment, environmental remediation, electrochemistry and catalysis. Haizhou’s current research focuses on the applications of aquatic chemistry principles to our benefits in engineered applications such as water purification and wastewater reclamation, as well as to understand how various redox and interfacial chemical processes influence natural systems such as estuarine, surface and groundwater.

Read Haizhou’s Emerging Investigators review on the “Occurrence and speciation of chromium in drinking water distribution systems” and find out more about his work  in the interview below:

How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?

My first research experience dates back to my freshman year. I participated in an undergraduate research to develop desulfurization technologies to treat flue gas. It was an exciting opportunity to learn how to design an experiment, collect and analyze the data, and come up with a hypothesis to test it. From my first research experience, I became very interested in environmental chemistry and have been working in this area since then. My most recent research is focused on water chemistry, especially the fate of metal and metalloids in water distribution system.

 

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

I am most excited about the complex interfacial and redox-driven chemical processes in the water distribution system. Our ongoing work shows that the water distribution system has many reactive components, and water chemistry plays a key role in maintaining the chemical stability of the system. Currently, understanding of distribution system chemistry has been mostly limited to a few empirical chemical indices. Awareness of redox reactivities of accumulated contaminants in corrosion products with residual disinfectants and source waters is largely unknown. Outcome from our work can help to increase access to clean water and improve urban infrastructure – two National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges.

 

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for drinking water distribution systems?

More cities in the future will deal with aging water infrastructure. Although distribution systems might be functional when operating as they have been for decades, the risks are going to come when source waters are abruptly switched in response to droughts or a decision to use a new water supply. The biggest challenge is how to minimize the adverse impact on water quality when using alternative water sources in the future, while maintaining the chemical integrity of the water distribution system. As environmental engineers, we have sadly seen the catastrophic consequences of ignoring the complex chemical reactivity of water distribution systems when switching the source of surface waters as in Flint, Michigan. Ideas developed through my ongoing work could aid engineers and water system managers in preventing the next Flint. To address these universal challenges and to prevent another Flint crisis with a variety of toxic inorganic contaminants – including but not limited to lead – it is urgent to investigate the redox-driven in situ mobilization of accumulated contaminants from distribution systems.

 

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The water distribution system is such a complex “reactor”. The focus of redox chemistry in our work is a pivotal step to advance our knowledge towards a comprehensive investigation, but it requires very careful and vigorous investigation of fundamental chemistry, and this take time. In addition, many issues of water distribution systems are still poorly understood, including biofilm, galvanic and bio-corrosion, mass transfer and diffusion processes at the pipe-water interface. This requires a collaborative effort among environmental engineers to solve the problems.

 

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I will attend the American Chemical Society Spring Meeting in San Francisco (April 2017), and the biennial conference of Association of Environmental Engineering Science Professors at University of Michigan (June 2017).

 

How do you spend your spare time?

As an assistant professor, I don’t have too much spare time outside work, but when there is a change, I play tennis or beach volleyball in sunshine California. I also fall in love with learning Italian and other Romantic languages.

 

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I would like to be a pianist. I enjoy classical music very much (favorite composer Mozart) and would like to be good at playing it.

 

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Work hard, present your work at conferences and interact with you colleagues. All of these will help build a positive system and make your more creative and productive.

 


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Emerging Investigator Series: Kevin J. Bisceglia and Nicole Fahrenfeld

Kevin Bisceglia is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Hofstra University. He earned a B.S. and M.E. in Environmental Engineering from Manhattan College, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering and Chemistry from Johns Hopkins University. His research interests include environmental analytical chemistry, water quality, and chemical fate and transport in the built environment.

Nicole Fahrenfeld is an Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She received her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering with a concentration in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering from Virginia Tech. She earned her B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and M.S. in Environmental Engineering and Science from Clemson University. Her research interests include pathogen fate and transport, microbial source tracking, bioremediation, and emerging contaminants.

Read their Emerging Investigators article ‘sewer surveillance for monitoring antibiotic use and prevalence of antibiotic resistance: urban sewer epidemiology’. It’s open access and therefore free to read.

– How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?

Kevin: I started off studying the redox chemistry of metals and metalloids in sediments. After that, I moved into environmental organic chemistry, studying pharmaceuticals and personal care products as contaminants. I had a fantastic opportunity to do some of my doctoral work at NIST developing methods for the determination of illicit drugs in municipal wastewater, and I’ve been fascinated with the notion of wastewater-based epidemiology ever since.

Nicole: I started research interested in environmental organic chemistry, so much so that my masters project was using chemical tracers for fecal coliform source tracking.  That interest in chemical fate and transport lead me to a PhD project on munitions biodegradation.  During that project I learned more about and became more interested in the microbiology driving chemical fate in the environment.  Now working on antibiotic resistance, and this review in particular, is a chance to continue working at that interface of organic chemistry and microbiology for an important water quality and public health issue.

– What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Kevin: I’m really excited about extending the practice of wastewater-based epidemiology beyond monitoring illicit drug use, into equally pressing public health concerns such as antibiotic resistance. I’ve also become interested in better understanding chemical cycling in suburban environments. Long Island, where Hofstra is located, is intimately linked with the post-war notion of suburban living, and it is home to many of the first modern American suburbs. As most Americans now live in suburban environments, a key challenge we face is how to make existing suburbs more sustainable and resilient. Luckily, there is a great cohort of people at Hofstra University attempting to do just that.

Nicole: Since joining Rutgers I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to apply my skills to urban water quality issues.  NJ has high rates of de facto water reuse, legacy contaminants from our industrial past, high population density, and aging infrastructure.  Environmental engineers can play a role in helping work towards improved water quality and resiliency.

– In your opinion, what is currently the biggest challenge for sewer systems?

Nicole: The age and, in regions with combined sewers, outdated design of sewers is the greatest challenge currently.  No matter the approach (green or gray infrastructure), it is time to invest in upgrading these systems.

Kevin: I agree with Nicole that the biggest problem sewers face is their age and, especially in the northeastern US where Hofstra and Rutgers are located, the existence of combined sewers.

– What should the next step be to improve our understanding of processes occurring in our sewer infrastructure?

Nicole: One step would be better understanding the factors driving attenuation in these systems.  Lisa Rodenburg’s lab at Rutgers did some really interesting work on persistent organic pollutant degradation in sewer systems.  My lab is hoping to build on that by understanding the factors driving pathogen attenuation in these systems.

Kevin: I’d recommend pilot scale studies to better understand sewers as biochemical reactors and as a unique ecological niche. I’m closely following work by Nicole, Lisa Rodenberg, and others to better understand chemical and microbial dynamics in sewer systems.

– What do you find most challenging about your research?

Kevin: Keeping my analytical instruments running, and convincing public health researchers to consider municipal wastewater as a resource for surveilling public health. There has been some interest in doing so in the EU, but far less in the United States.

Nicole: It is an exciting time with the ability to generate –omics data sets and move towards systems level understandings of environmental processes.  But, piecing these large data sets together and figuring out what they really means in these complex systems is certainly a new challenge.

– In which upcoming conference or events may our readers meet you?

Nicole: We’ll be presenting our research on end-of-pipe treatment for combined sewer overflow effluent at WEFTEC.

Kevin: I’m planning to be at the national ACS conference this spring.

– How do you spend your spare time?

Nicole: Running, sailing, hiking, at the shore and with my family.

Kevin: With my children, aged 5 and 7. I try to get outdoors whenever possible, whether to NYC or hiking, biking, kayaking along Long Island’s coastal waters

– Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

Kevin: I would be a research librarian. My favorite part of doing research is fact-finding and literature review, during which you get to learn about what others have done and think about what might be possible. I’d love to do that full time.

Nicole: Probably writing. I became interested in environmental engineering in part from newspaper articles I read while volunteering at a non-profit for children’s environmental health. A well-written story can put flesh behind facts and data and make a real difference in the way a reader feels about an issue. If I wasn’t working on generating those data and facts, I think I’d enjoy telling the stories surrounding them.

– Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Kevin: Rely on colleagues for support and guidance along the way. You may be surprised to learn how many of your peers are experiencing similar challenges. Although our field can be competitive, don’t hesitate to seek out collaborative opportunities and create a network of ‘advisers.’

Nicole:I didn’t know this was the job I’d have or the research I’d be doing when I started out.  When I get the opportunity to speak to students about career paths I can empathize with the uncertainty or anxiety some express about what area they want to focus in, how/if/when they want to pursue grad school, etc.  There are lots of paths to a satisfying career and a happy life.  Don’t be afraid to start trying on hats to see which fits.


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Emerging Investigator Series:Xin Yang

Dr. Xin Yang is now a professor at the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at Sun Yat-sen University. She received a B.S. in Environmental Science from Nankai University in 2002 and obtained her M.Phil. and Ph.D. degree in Environmental Engineering from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology at 2004 and 2007, respectively. She was a postdoctoral fellow, working with Prof. Philip C. Singer at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on the formation mechanisms and control strategies of disinfection byproducts in water treatment and the fate of emerging micropollutants in aqueous environments.

Read Xin’s Emerging Investigators article ‘disinfection by-products in mixed chlorine dioxide and chlorine water treatment’.

– How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?
My first research article was on disinfection byproducts formation during chlorination during my MPhi study at the HKUST. My current paper is also on disinfection byproducts, but from chlorine dioxide disinfection. Over the years, my research has been focused on disinfection and the byproducts formation with expansion toward emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products and persistent organic pollutants. My research has always aimed at drinking water safety.

– What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
The most exciting thing is to bridge the knowledge or results from the laboratory work with the real application. As my research has been focusing on drinking water treatment, we have good connections with water companies serving drinking water. It is great to apply what have learned from the laboratory work to guide the real application in water treatment. This is not easy, but we are trying.

– What would be the ideal ratio of chlorine dioxide:chlorine for water treatment?
From the tests, we find that the presence of some chlorine in chlorine dioxide solution may be effective in control certain groups of disinfection byproducts. It is difficult to give an ideal ratio as the water qualities vary. Meanwhile, the valuation of the formation of disinfection byproducts is just one aspect of the mixing solution, the other aspects such as inactivation capability may also be considered for further study.

– What do you find most challenging about your research?
I am working on pollutants or products with trace concentrations and the instruments such as GC-MS/MS and LC-MS/MS are often used. As the exploration of the reaction pathway is often one major objective, the mass spectral analysis from tons of peaks obtained from MS is very challenging.

– In which upcoming conference or events may our readers meet you?
I will be attending the Gordon Conference on Drinking Water Disinfection By-Products in July 2017 in South Hadley, MA, USA. The other conferences I often attend are the International Water Association conferences.

– How do you spend your spare time?
I spend my spare time with my family including my 6-year old son. Outside of that, I enjoy reading, travelling and playing tennis.

– Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?
I have been enjoying so much as a teacher and researcher in the university. If I had not gone into science, I would like to be an engineer.

– Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
Work on something that needs to be worked on. Research is not just paper publication. It will be very exciting and important to solve real-application problems.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Christopher Sales

Christopher M. Sales is a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor in the Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Department of Drexel University. He is an environmental engineer with research interests in molecular environmental microbiology related to the biodegradation of environmental contaminants and biotechnologies for energy and resource recovery from waste. His research group, who you can follow on twitter @SalesLaboratory, applies a combination of high-throughput and advanced molecular biology, analytical chemistry, and bioinformatics techniques to study microbial systems in natural and engineered environments.

Christopher received his Ph.D  in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012. His dissertation focusing on the functional genomics of the biodegradation of the emerging water contaminants, 1,4-dioxane and N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Prior to this, he worked as a post-doctoral researcher with Dean Joseph B. Hughes in the Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Department at Drexel University concentrated on the bioremediation of soils contaminated with nitroaromatric compounds, the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale, and the development of combined algae-bacteria biotechnologies for the conversion of wastes to energy and valuable products.

Read Chris’ Emerging Investigators article ‘untangling the microbial ecosystem and kinetics in a nitrogen removing photosynthetic high density bioreactor’.

– How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?
This most recent article in ES:WR&T blends together aspects of research that I did as an undergraduate and then as a doctoral student. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, I performed research in the laboratory of Wen Kang Shieh (who is a co-author on this most recent article) that mainly focused on the design and kinetics of bioreactors for wastewater treatment. Through this undergraduate research, I was fortunate enough to publish a manuscript on the performance of a novel continuous bioreactor system that had high mean cell residence times without a biomass-liquid separation unit (see DOI:10.1016/j.watres.2006.01.043). While I knew microbes were involved in the treatment of synthetic wastewater in the bioreactors that I operated as an undergraduate, I was not able to fully grasp or appreciate–at that time–the complex microbial processes responsible for removing pollutants from wastewater in these systems. This undergraduate research experience propelled me on a journey to pursuing a graduate degree with Lisa Alvarez-Cohen at the University of California at Berkeley, where I applied functional genomics to understand microbial degradation of environmental contaminants.  This recent article on untangling the microbial ecology and kinetics in a nitrogen removing photosynthetic bioreactor of algae and bacteria showcases my ambitions as an Assistant Professor at Drexel University, where I am aiming to utilize molecular biology techniques, such as high-throughput genomic sequencing, to shed light on the microbial processes that dictate the function and performance of environmental biological processes in order to inform how we design and engineer them.

– What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
The most exciting–and also the most daunting and challenging–aspect of incorporating meta-omics and high-throughput chemical techniques to studying the kinetics and microbiology of environmental biological processes is the collection, handling, and analysis of such large datasets. This influx of data has the potential to vastly improve our understanding and ability to engineer biological processes but realization of this potential will depend largely on advances in data sciences and computational modeling to analyze the large amounts of high-dimensional data and draw meaningful relationships from these system within an engineering context.

– What do you see as the biggest benefit of using 3D visualization methods for water research?
The 3D visualization method gave us a new perspective, beyond single-variate regressions, to determine how more than one predictor variables could interact to affect the performance of a system. The 3D visualization methods will allow water researchers to examine how two predictor variables could work in tandem to affect the performance of a treatment process.

– What is the most useful application for these membranes?
With its enhanced removal of organic compounds, this membrane can be potentially used for wastewater reuse, as wastewater often contains harmful organic contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and endocrine disrupting compounds.

– In which upcoming conference or events may our readers meet you?
I will be at the upcoming 16th International Symposium for Microbial Ecology (ISME) in Montreal, Canada from August 21-26, 2016 with my PhD student and co-author on this recent article in ES:WR&T, Jacob Price.

– How do you spend your spare time?
I spend my spare time relaxing with my wife and our three dogs. We enjoy cooking and grilling at home and exploring the food and beer scene in Philadelphia.

– Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?
I love cooking and being in a kitchen, so I’d say a chef.

– Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
Surround yourself with a strong support system of peers and mentors–they will help you gain confidence to navigate through difficult times and will always be there to champion and celebrate your successes.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Baoxia Mi

Baoxia Mi is an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California, Berkeley. She received BS and MS from Tianjin University in China, Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a postdoctoral training at Yale University, all in environmental engineering.  Prior to joining UC Berkeley, she held faculty positions at the University of Maryland College Park and The George Washington University in DC.

Currently, she directs the research and educational activities of the Membrane Innovation Lab, studying physicochemical and biological processes with emphases on advanced membrane processes and nanotechnology to address some of the most challenging issues in sustainable water supply and civil infrastructure, renewable energy production, and public health protection. Dr. Mi’s recent achievements include an NSF CAREER Award and Journal of Membrane Science Most Cited Author Award.

Read Baoxia’s Emerging Investigators article ‘silica-crosslinked graphene oxide membrane and its unique capability in removing neutral organic molecules from water‘.

– How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?
My first research article was on membrane integrity monitoring method published in the early stage of my PhD study at Illinois.  My current paper is on a novel graphene oxide membrane that demonstrates very interesting separation capabilities. So, over the years, the focus of my research has definitely shifted among different aspects of membrane technology, from membrane characterization to new materials and processes.  But overall, I am fascinated by novel technologies that can help us address global water challenges.

– What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
I am most excited about exploring new materials and technologies with the ultimate goal of discovering their potential in promoting water and environmental sustainability. New things do not always work, but there is a lot of fun in the learning process, and the excitement that we get when it does work is enormous.

– What makes silica-crosslinked graphene oxide membranes unique?
The uniqueness of silica-crosslinked graphene oxide membrane mainly comes from its 2D carbon-walled channels, which presents a membrane structure that is distinctly different from traditional porous membranes.  We believe such unique structure and associated interface phenomena eventually lead to the unexpected (in a good way) membrane behavior in removing neutral organic molecules.

– What is the most useful application for these membranes?
With its enhanced removal of organic compounds, this membrane can be potentially used for wastewater reuse, as wastewater often contains harmful organic contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and endocrine disrupting compounds.

– What do you find most challenging about your research?
I felt that the most challenging part about my research is to bridge the gap between scientific discoveries in lab-scaled research and real-life applications of the technologies we are working on.

– In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?
My next trip is to the Gordon Research Conference on Membranes: Materials and Processes that will take place at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, NH next month.  At the meeting, I will give a talk on the promises of graphene oxide membranes in water purification. I am also co-organizing a session on membrane processes for water-energy sustainability at the ACS meeting next Spring in San Francisco.

– How do you spend your spare time?
I spend most of my spare time with my two daughters, 8-year old Mifay and 3-month old Mibelle.  If there is still time, I enjoy reading and walking/hiking.

– Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?
If I am not a scientist, I think I might enjoy being an elementary school teacher and/or a writer to write kids stories.  My daughter always asks me to invent stories about her favorite toys and I enjoy doing it too. Nevertheless, being a scientist is much better as I would have missed the fun of doing research.

– Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
Instead of setting a definite career path for myself, I like to just try to be my best in each stage of my life.  I felt that working hard and being persistent will eventually bring you to your dream job, although there could be so many different paths to follow.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Christy Remucal

Christina Remucal is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she focuses on aquatic chemistry. She is also affiliated with several interdisciplinary programs, including Environmental Chemistry and Technology, Freshwater and Marine Science, and Molecular and Environmental Toxicology. Dr. Remucal holds a BS (2003) in Environmental Engineering and Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MS (2004) and PhD (2009) in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. She completed her postdoctoral research in the Institute of Biogeochemistry and Pollutant Dynamics at the Swiss

Read Christy’s Emerging Investigators article ‘the efficacy of chlorine photolysis as an advanced oxidation process for drinking water treatment.’

– How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?
My first paper came out of my undergraduate research on solar water disinfection. I then studied the production of reactive oxidants by zero-valent iron nanoparticles as a graduate student and returned to photochemistry as a post-doc. My current research focuses on the formation and fate of reactive oxidants that are capable of degrading contaminants in both natural systems and in engineered systems (as discussed in this article). While I’ve worked in different systems, my research has always aimed at developing ways to clean water.

– What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
My group is doing a lot of work characterizing the composition and reactivity of dissolved organic matter (DOM). DOM is present in all waters and is important for drinking water because it leads to the formation of disinfection by-products. It also plays a role in the indirect photodegradation of many contaminants in sunlit natural waters. I am excited about DOM because it is a really challenging problem, but also is very important for water quality.

– What do you see as the biggest challenge in drinking water?
Challenges in drinking water are related to both the quantity and quality of water resources. We only have a limited amount of available freshwater, but the stress on this resource is increasing due to a growing population. As a result, we are turning to lower quality water sources to meet our needs. We are also increasingly aware of the presence of emerging contaminants in our water, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products. While some of the solutions to these issues are technological, we also need to work on the social  and political aspects to meet our growing demand for water.

– You identified several gaps in knowledge of the chemistry of chlorine photolysis, what do you think is the biggest priority for future research?
A better understanding of the transformation of dissolved organic matter and the formation of disinfection by-products (DBPs) during chlorine photolysis is clearly needed. The data on this topic is limited and there is no consensus in the current literature about whether the treatment approach increases or decreases DBPs. Chlorine photolysis is a promising drinking water treatment approach to improve inactivation of pathogens and remove organic contaminants, but we need to know more about DBP formation in order to safely apply it.

– In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?
I am attending the Gordon Research Conference on Environmental Sciences: Water this summer, and will be at the spring ACS meeting in San Francisco in 2017 – How do you spend your spare time? Nearly all of my free time is spent with my family, including my daughter (5 years) and son (2 years). They are a lot of fun, and I really enjoy watching them learn about the world around them. Outside of that, I enjoy skiing, playing ultimate frisbee, and cooking.

– Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?
I have always loved science, even as a middle school student working on my first science fair project. If I had not gone into science, I would have pursued a career in medicine

– Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
Work on something you are really excited about. Research has its ups and downs, and being passionate about what you do helps you stay motivated and get through challenges.

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