Archive for the ‘Emerging Investigators’ Category

Emerging Investigators Series – Greg LeFevre

We are delighted to introduce out latest Envrionmental Science: Water Research & Technology Emerging Investigator, Greg LeFevre!

 

Greg LeFevre is an assistant professor of environmental engineering and science in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa and an assistant faculty research engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering. He did his BS at Michigan Tech, MS/PhD at University of Minnesota, and postdoc at Stanford University, all in environmental engineering. The focus of his research group is elucidating novel biotransformation products and pathways of emerging contaminants to inform improved design of engineered natural treatment systems for non-point pollutants. Much of Greg’s work has been dedicated to improving bioretention stormwater green infrastructure.

Read Greg’s Emerging Investigators Series paper “the role of vegetation in bioretention for stormwater treatment in the built environment: pollutant removal, hydrologic function, and ancillary benefits” and find out more about him in the interview below:

 

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on the role of vegetation in bioretention for stormwater treatment in the built environment. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

In some ways, this article has threads that connect my graduate research, my postdoc work, and some elements of my lab’s current research. During my PhD at the University of Minnesota, I studied the fate and biodegradation of hydrocarbons in stormwater bioretention cells and discovered that plants played a critical role in facilitating removal. During my postdoc at Stanford with ReNUWIt, I studied large-scale stormwater capture-treatment-recharge systems for aquifer replenishment in arid regions and also the uptake of trace organic contaminants by plants when recycled water is used for irrigation, including the elucidation of novel metabolites following plant uptake. I have fused these experiences together in my new lab at the University of Iowa where we focus on discovering the biotransformation products and pathways of emerging organic contaminants to inform improvements to low-energy engineered natural treatment systems, including bioretention and other practices to capture and degrade non-point pollutants. One aspect that has certainly evolved has been my focus on elucidating pollutant transformation products rather than simply classifying contaminants as having “degraded.”

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

There are two aspects that greatly excite me at the moment. First, innovations in analytical tools (especially high res mass spectrometry) are allowing us to discover novel transformation products at an unprecedented pace in plants (including food crops) and water. Second, I’m really interested in coupling biotransformation with innovations in materials to create novel infiltration media for stormwater systems that capture and degrade trace organic contaminants.

In your opinion, what is the biggest environmental impact presented by stormwater in the urban environment?

Stormwater disrupts nearly every aspect of hydrologic processes and has severe impacts to water quantity and quality. The most well-known impacts relate to flooding and sediment/nutrient flux to receiving water bodies. I think one of the most underappreciated aspects of stormwater impacts is the rapid transport of trace organic contaminants from highly diffuse sources that, collectively, exert pressures on biota in water ways.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The suite of trace organic contaminants in stormwater is constantly evolving as, for example, new pesticides get phased in/out, additives to vehicles evolve, or biocides are added to building materials that leach into stormwater. The non-point nature of stormwater makes everything a challenge (accurate field measurements not the least of which!). Of course, the big important ‘so-what’ questions regarding the ecotoxicological impacts of these compounds and complex mixtures are a major challenge, and that is where we love to collaborate with experts in the tox field.

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

I am typically at ACS, the GRC Environmental Sciences: Water, AEESP, Emerging Contaminants (when it’s in the US), and sometimes SETAC. This year I was invited to participate in the NAE Frontiers workshop in Japan.

How do you spend your spare time?

I have an 11-month-old baby, so ‘spare time’ is trying to be with her as much as possible. I try to get outside as much as possible into wild areas; this is why I went into environmental work. Fortunately, our baby loves hikes!

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

Honestly, I never really thought of being anything but scientist. I knew that I wanted to be an environmental scientist from early in grade school. My family participated in restoration ecology volunteer work at a local NGO every week for as long as I can remember (I got my ten-year service award at age 14, har har) and we had a restored prairie for our yard. The only question in my mind was what kind of environmental scientist. Aldo Leopold also has always been a strong role model, as an academic scientist, writer, natural philosopher, and land steward.

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

Work on important problems and don’t lose sight of why you are here.

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Emerging Investigators Series – Takahiro Fujioka

 

Takahiro Fujioka received his B.Eng. in 2000 and M.Eng. in 2002 both in Chemical Engineering from Hiroshima University, Japan. He worked as a project manager at Fuji Electric Systems Co. Ltd. from 2002 to 2005. He undertook postgraduate training in Water Supply Engineering at UNESCO-IHE, Netherlands and graduated in April 2009. Thereafter, he worked as a project engineer at Mitsubishi Electric Co. until December 2010. From December 2010 to December 2013, Takahiro undertook a Ph.D. training project at the University of Wollongong, Australia. From December 2013 to April 2015, Takahiro worked as a research fellow at the University of Wollongong. In addition, he served as the secretary and a board member of the Membrane Society of Australasia from May 2013 to May 2015.

Takahiro is currently an Associate Professor at Nagasaki University. His research interests centre on water reuse using membrane technologies. He has published 34 international journal papers.

Read Takahiro’s Emerging Investigators paper “A steric pore-flow model to predict the transport of small and uncharged solutes through a reverse osmosis membrane” and find out more about him in the interview below:

 

(more…)

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Emerging Investigators Series – John D. Sivey

John D. Sivey is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Towson University, where he is also a Fisher Endowed Chair in the Biological and Physical Sciences. Sivey’s research group investigates the chemistry and consequences of highly electrophilic halogenating agents in disinfected waters. His team also examines the transformation mechanisms and fate of “inert” constituents of agrochemical formulations. Sivey teaches courses in analytical and environmental chemistry, as well as an Honors College course entitled The Polluted States of America. 

Sivey received his PhD in Environmental Engineering and Chemistry from Johns Hopkins University, his MS in Environmental Engineering and Science from Clemson University, and his BS in Chemistry from Central Michigan University. Prior to joining the faculty of the Department of Chemistry at Towson University, Sivey completed postdoctoral work in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Yale University.

Read John’s Emerging Investigators paper “Comparing the inherent reactivity of often-overlooked aqueous chlorinating and brominating agents toward salicylic acid” and find out more about him in the interview below:

 

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on the reactivity of chlorinating and brominating agents towards salicylic acid. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

As an undergraduate student, I performed research in the area of physical organic chemistry, at which time I first became interested in chemical kinetics. While completing my MS thesis, I examined the long-term fate of polychlorinated biphenyls at the sediment-water interface of a lake in South Carolina, USA. Most of my PhD research focused on the kinetics of chlorination and bromination, particularly with respect to organic compounds in disinfected waters. While completing my PhD dissertation, it became clear that traditional models used to describe the behaviour of aqueous chlorine and bromine could not fully explain reactivity patterns associated with several types of organic compounds. Such traditional models typically assume HOCl and HOBr are the only kinetically-relevant chlorinating and brominating agents in waters treated with free chlorine. We discovered, however, that despite their typically low concentrations, several additional halogenating agents (such as BrCl, BrOCl, Cl2O, and others) can influence overall halogenation rates, especially for organic compounds with moderate reactivity toward aqueous chlorine and bromine. As my group’s paper about salicylic acid illustrates, I am still interested in fleshing out the solution conditions and organic compound classes that are most susceptible to halogenation by these less abundant (but highly electrophilic) halogenating agents.

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

Most of my group’s halogenation research has (until recently) been performed in synthetic waters with carefully-controlled compositions. New experiments in my laboratory are delineating the contributions of species such as BrCl, BrOCl, et al., in natural waters following disinfection. Such experiments will help us to bridge the knowledge gap between comparatively clean synthetic waters and the more complex natural systems.

In your opinion, what is the potential impact on drinking water quality presented by halosalicylates?

Halosalicylates can have at least a two-fold impact on drinking water quality. Firstly, halosalicylates can attenuate drinking water quality by contributing to the overall toxicity of these waters, which depends on the specific chemical structures, concentrations, and persistence of the halosalicylates (and other toxicants) present. In addition, halosalicylates can undergo subsequent reactions (e.g., with chlorine or bromine) to form other disinfection byproducts that may be of greater or lesser concern than the halosalicylates themselves.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Converting chemical kinetic data into mechanistic models is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of my group’s research. In the salicylic acid paper, for example, the possibility of salicyloyl hypochlorite serving as a reactive intermediate never crossed my mind prior to wrestling with the data and having helpful conversations with my colleagues.

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

I will be at the American Chemical Society’s National Conference in New Orleans beginning on March 18, 2018. I also plan to attend the Gordon Research Conference on Water Disinfection, Byproducts and Health beginning on July 28, 2019.

How do you spend your spare time?

I enjoy taking hikes with my two Labrador Retrievers, gardening, watching college sports, and playing arcade pinball (which, as it turns out, is enjoying a bit of a renaissance).

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

Were it not for environmental chemistry, I would have chosen meteorology. I had a short stint as a meteorology major as an undergraduate before switching to chemistry. If I were forced into a career outside of the sciences, it would be as a basketball referee (which was my side job as an undergraduate). It was once pointed out to me that meteorologists and referees are two jobs where you can routinely be incorrect and yet keep your job.

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

Look for the teachable moments in successes and in failures. My institution (Towson University) is primarily undergraduate, and I make it a point with my research students to celebrate the experiments that did not give the results we anticipated. I’m quick to remind my students that every new experiment can result in a discovery, even if that discovery is not the outcome the student (or I) had in mind.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Julian Fairey

Julian Fairey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Arkansas with research and teaching interests related to aquatic chemistry and physical-chemical treatment processes for water. His research group focuses on various aspects of drinking water disinfection byproduct formation and control and development of sensors for distribution system monitoring. Prior to joining the University of Arkansas, he earned a BSc at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, a MS and PhD at The University of Texas at Austin, and had a post-doctoral research appointment at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, all in Civil-Environmental Engineering.

Read his Emerging Investigators series article “Trihalomethane, Dihaloacetonitrile, and Total N-nitrosamine Precursor Adsorption by Modified Carbon Nanotubes (CNTs) and CNT Micropillars” and find out more about his research in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on the absorbance of precursors of disinfection byproducts on carbon nanotubes.  How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Like many academics, my first article was published when I was a graduate student and was based data I collected in the lab. Now, as a faculty member, I conceive of ideas that are executed (after being improved upon!) by my graduate students – I try to help with experimental design, interpretation, and messaging, but need to rely on others to collect interesting primary data. So, my role has evolved since my first article, from Player to General Manager. But my goal all along has remained the same – to identify and solve important problems related to water treatment.

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

My collaborations – in this particular article, we worked with a material scientist from the University of Cambridge and a data scientist from my institution, the University of Arkansas – the quality and impact of my work are greatly enhanced as a result and am looking forward to continuing these collaborations and developing new ones.

In your opinion, what is the biggest impact to the environment presented by disinfection byproducts?

In the United States, many water utilities have altered their disinfection strategy in an attempt to meet disinfection byproduct regulations. This practice can have unintended consequences that may negatively impact other areas of water treatment and distribution – so, it can be argued that the biggest impact of DBPs has been indirect – in the well- intentioned pursuit of meeting DBP regulations, other aspects of drinking water quality have been compromised, sometimes with devastating results. This has really spurred my interest in improving the understanding DBP formation and developing strategies for DBP precursor removal.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

I worry that I am not identifying the truly important problems related to water treatment and distribution – perhaps in the pursuit of doing something novel, I am preoccupied, and my time could be put to better use if I went a different direction. As an academic, it’s hard to know when and how to course-correct.

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

I reliably attend the AWWA Water Quality & Technology Conference and the Gordon Research Conference for Environmental Sciences: Water.

How do you spend your spare time?

I just bought a house, so I spend a good amount of time learning how to fix various things and driving to and from Lowe’s. To clear my mind, I workout and (try to) play piano and chess; the occasional glass of scotch, bourbon, and beer help too!

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

I love sports and the advising part of my job, so I think I would really enjoy coaching or managing a team. A sabbatical with a MLB or NHL franchise would be pretty cool!

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

Be kind, honest, and humble. I feel certain aspects of academia may (unintentionally) encourage otherwise behaviors.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Danmeng Shuai

Dr. Danmeng Shuai is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The George Washington University since 2013. He graduated from Tsinghua University, P. R. China with a Bachelor of Engineering in 2005 and a Master of Engineering in 2007, both in Environmental Engineering. He received a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. He worked as a postdoctoral research associate in the University of Iowa from 2012 to 2013. His research interests are in the development of innovative materials for water-energy-health nexus. He has published several peer-review journal articles in Environ. Sci. Technol., ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., ACS Catal., Environ. Sci. Water Res. Technol., etc. His current research is supported by National Science Foundation and US Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Follow Danmeng on Twitter – @DanmengShuai and visit his Research Group’s website – http://materwatersus.weebly.com/

Read his Emerging Investigators series article “Emerging investigators series: Advances and Challenges of Graphitic Carbon Nitride as a Visible-Light-Responsive Photocatalyst for Sustainable Water Purification” and find out more about his research below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology focuses on graphitic carbon nitride as a photocatalyst for sustainable water purification. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Our research group has been working on graphitic carbon nitride for photocatalytic water purification since 2014. Graphitic carbon nitride is an emerging photocatalyst since 2009, and it has several unique merits that promote its applications for sustainable, solar-energy-powered water purification. We developed graphitic carbon nitride with improved photocatalytic performance by density functional theory simulations, and evaluated its performance for the degradation of persistent organic micropollutants in complex water matrices that represent water and wastewater treatment practices (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b02579). Beyond the scope of chemical contaminants, we are currently working on antimicrobial applications of graphitic carbon nitride for the inactivation of waterborne, foodborne, airborne, and surface-borne pathogens, by utilizing renewable solar energy and visible indoor light. For example, we collaborated with other researchers for virus inactivation by graphitic carbon nitride (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004313541630745X). US Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) recently started to support us for developing graphitic carbon nitride-based antimicrobial materials for safe food processing and packaging (https://nifa.usda.gov/announcement/usda-announces-46-million-nanotechnology-research).

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

We are most attracted by the unique feature and diverse applications of graphitic carbon nitride. The interaction between graphitic carbon nitride and chemical contaminants could be tailored for selective contaminant removal. We observed some graphitic carbon nitride samples showed selective photocatalytic degradation of persistent organic micropollutants (e.g., atrazine), and are currently using a combined experimental and simulation approach to understand the mechanism. It will help the rational design of highly reactive and selective photocatalyst for the removal of contaminants of a low concentration and high toxicity, even in the presence of complex water constituents. Graphitic carbon nitride also effectively inactivates microorganisms under simulated indoor light (we used white LED and it worked!), and we are exploring its applications for catalysis, adsorption, and membrane separation. For example, we used graphitic carbon nitride as a catalyst support for Pd-based hydrogenation of contaminant nitrate and nitrite, and observed high reactivity, selectivity toward a desired product, and longevity of the catalysts (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsami.7b09192).

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for sustainable water purification and how does the use of graphitic carbon nitride help to overcome this?

An ideal, sustainable water purification system requires improved performance for the removal of persistent and emerging contaminants, reduced energy and chemical footprint, potential resource recovery from the waste, and minimized adverse impacts of treated water (reduced byproducts). Graphitic carbon nitride can use renewable solar energy for water treatment, and its performance may outperform peer photocatalysts because it can harvest and utilize more visible light. Our previous study demonstrates the viability of graphitic carbon nitride for the removal of persistent organic micropollutants, and the material holds promise for sustainable, small-scale water treatment (e.g., for small communities, rural areas, developing countries). We also believe this material can be tailored for resource recovery in the future.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Challenges come from two folds, one is the atomic-scale, mechanistic understanding of how the material is interacting with chemicals and biomolecules, and the other one is the large-scale implementation of the material for solving real world problems. For example, scalability, stability, long-term performance of graphitic carbon nitride, as well as photoreactor design are crucial yet challenging for its applications, as we suggested in this perspective.

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

ACS, Gordon (Water, Environmental Nano, Nanoscale Science & Engineering for Agriculture & Food Systems), AEESP conferences.

How do you spend your spare time?

Cooking and staying with my family. I always tell my friends I can cook well because I am working with chemicals. However I don’t need a six digit balance to decide how much salt will be suitable for the dish.

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

A chef maybe?

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

Expand core expertise, diversify research areas, and welcome collaborations. I never thought of working with microorganisms, but thanks to my wife who introduces me into a new, intriguing field (she is an environmental microbiologist).

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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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