Archive for the ‘Emerging Investigators’ Category

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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Emerging Investigators Series: Daniel Gerrity

Daniel Gerrity

Daniel Gerrity earned his Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering as a Department of Homeland Security Fellow at Arizona State University (ASU). After graduation, he worked as a Post Doctoral Researcher at the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) where he studied the occurrence and treatability of trace organic contaminants in water and wastewater. Dr. Gerrity then worked as a Senior Engineer for Trussell Technologies in San Diego where he focused on the development of alternative treatment trains for potable reuse applications.

Dr. Gerrity is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Construction at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) where his teaching and research interests focus on water reuse.

Read Daniel’s Emerging Investigators article ‘Prediction of Trace Organic Contaminant Abatement with UV/H2O2: Development and Validation of Semi-Empirical Models for Municipal Wastewater Effluents’ here.


How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?
Throughout my career, I have worked with advisors and mentors with experience in diverse fields ranging from environmental microbiology to chemical engineering. My early publications with Morteza Abbaszadegan, John Crittenden, and Hodon Ryu were related to my Ph.D. research at Arizona State University. These publications primarily focused on the use of advanced treatment technologies, specifically UV/TiO2 photocatalysis, for microbial inactivation.

After graduation, I had the opportunity to pursue post doctoral research with Shane Snyder at the Southern Nevada Water Authority where my research shifted toward the study of trace organic contaminants in water and wastewater. During that time, we were awarded a project by the WateReuse Research Foundation to study the use of ozone and UV/H2O2 to oxidize trace organic contaminants in wastewater treatment applications. This study served as the basis of the most recent article, and it also provided an opportunity to collaborate with other emerging researchers (Yunho Lee who is now at GIST) and established leaders in the field (Urs von Gunten of EAWAG). .

– What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
The most exciting part of my current research and my early career at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is the opportunity to tie all of my past experiences together. In addition to pursuing additional research related to trace organic contaminants, I am also beginning to incorporate more topics related to environmental microbiology. For example, I am currently studying the role of wastewater treatment plants in either promoting or mitigating the effects of bacterial antibiotic resistance. This project gives me an opportunity to integrate my early experience in microbiology with my recent experience with trace organic contaminants, specifically antibiotics.

My current research also emphasizes the role of potable reuse in providing sustainable water supplies for communities in semi-arid environments. Given the importance of potable reuse in the American Southwest, I am excited that my research is critically important to my own community.

– What do you see as the biggest challenge in potable reuse treatment?
It is exciting to see how much potable reuse has evolved in such a short period of time, which is a testament to successful collaborations between researchers, industry, municipalities, and the public. In recent years, public acceptance of the topic was one of the critical challenges hindering widespread adoption of potable reuse. However, the long-term success of several benchmark systems and better communication of its benefits and safety have transformed planned potable reuse into a common and accepted practice.

In some locations, implementation of potable reuse requires compliance with very strict quality- or treatment-based standards. The biggest challenge for potable reuse is trying to figure out how we can achieve those standards in a sustainable and cost-effective way, while ensuring that we are fully protective of public health. That being said, this challenge applies to all forms of water and wastewater treatment—not just potable reuse.

– This is your second article in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology. How was your experience publishing with us?
The experience has been fantastic in both instances. The part that really interests me is the unique way that the journal is reaching out to the scientific community and the general public. From the use of Twitter to eye-catching artwork to the Emerging Investigators blog, the journal’s communication seems to stand out compared to other journals. Most importantly, the journal still maintains an extremely high quality of scientific research related to cutting edge topics. I’m excited to be able to publish in this journal because I think it will grow rapidly and reach wider audiences.

– In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?
My graduate students and I will be presenting at the International Ozone Association meeting in Las Vegas in August 2016, and I will likely be attending WEFTEC in New Orleans in September 2016. Beyond those two specific conferences, I often attend the annual WateReuse meetings.

– How do you spend your spare time?
I now have an 11-month old daughter who is quickly becoming way too mobile for my liking! When my wife and I are not chasing her around, we go to a gym called SinCity CrossFit in Las Vegas. I’ve developed a great community of friends there, and it allows me to mentally escape from science and teaching—at least for a little while.

Beyond that, I love getting outside and seeing all of the great places Las Vegas has to offer. Most people miss out when they visit Las Vegas because they never get away from the Strip to see places like Red Rock, Mount Charleston, and Lake Mead.

– Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?
I enjoy CrossFit so much that I would probably become a coach or possibly open my own gym. Seeing someone achieve their fitness goals or master a specific CrossFit skill is just like seeing the light bulb go off in a student’s head in the classroom. They are both very rewarding experiences.

– Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
Particularly in environmental engineering, there are so many opportunities to collaborate with people in other fields because the problems we are trying to solve require expertise in so many different areas (engineering, materials, biology, chemistry, public health, political science, sociology). In the end, collaboration will likely yield a better product, and you will likely gain knowledge or skills in a new area.

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Emerging Investigators Series author: Brooke Mayer

Brooke Mayer

Brooke Mayer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at Marquette University. She graduated from the Environmental Engineering program at Arizona State University with her B.S. in 2004, M.S. in 2006, and Ph.D. in 2008.

Brooke’s research interests primarily relate to physicochemical water and wastewater treatment processes, with specific areas of emphasis in virus quantification and mitigation, removal/degradation of emerging chemical contaminants, and the waste-to-resource paradigm embodied by phosphorus recovery.

Read Brooke’s Emerging Investigators article ‘Virus mitigation by coagulation: recent discoveries and future directions’ here.


How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?
Even at this early stage in my career, I can say that my evolution as a researcher has been characterized by non-linearity. Interestingly enough, this article is the most closely related to my first publication, which focused on virus removal during enhanced coagulation.

Since that time, I’ve explored and expanded my interests to include not only viruses and coagulation, but also other contaminants, e.g., disinfection byproduct precursors, as well as treatment processes such as phosphorus recovery. Aside from my growing breadth of interests, the biggest change has been my research role.  I’m incredibly lucky to work with an extraordinary team of researchers, including my very talented Ph.D. student and co-author, Joe Heffron.

– What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
It’s really hard for me to pick out one single most exciting thing. Students in my lab group are doing some wonderful research right now, including our work on viruses, advanced oxidation processes, and nutrient recovery. One exciting new project that we’re starting in the fall is my NSF CAREER study focused on using proteins to recover phosphorus.

– What do you consider the main challenge in water quality and treatment?
I believe that many technical challenges remain, but perhaps the most challenging aspects are non-technical, or at least involve better integration of technical and non-technical considerations. I think that further progress in the social and economic dimensions is essential to ensure access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation for all.

– How was your experience publishing with Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology?
The experience was excellent from start to finish. ES:WR&T maintains an astonishing turn-around rate, while consistently publishing extremely interesting articles of great contemporary relevance. The reviewers and editors were very fast and thorough, and helped us to greatly improve the final article.

– In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?
I’ll be attending the International Water Association’s Particle Separation 2016 conference in June in Oslo, Norway, where my Ph.D. student and co-author, Joe Heffron, will be presenting a talk describing our research on virus treatment during electrocoagulation.  I’ll also be presenting a poster on my new bio-based phosphorus recovery project at the Gordon Research Conference on Environmental Sciences: Water later this summer.

– How do you spend your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with my family, getting out into the great outdoors, traveling, and reading “non-technical, fun” books in my free time.

– If you could not be a scientist but could be anything else, what would you be?
When I was little, I dreamed of being in the Olympics.  But since I’m fairly “vertically challenged”, I think that I would be a teacher, following in my parents’ footsteps. Fortunately, I have the great opportunity to both teach and do research in my job!

– Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to try new things!  You’ll undoubtedly be told that you can’t do something or you’re just not the right fit, but you never know until you try – and the learning process doesn’t hinge on successes alone.  If you’re open to new opportunities and you build a positive support system of mentors, colleagues and friends, there are no limits.

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Emerging Investigators Series author: Ameet J. Pinto

Ameet Pinto

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Ameet J. Pinto received his PhD (2009) in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech with Prof. Nancy Love. He did his post-doctoral research with Prof. Lutgarde Raskin and Prof. Chuanwu Xi at the University of Michigan before working as a Lecturer at the University of Glasgow (2012-2015). He has recently started as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University.

His research focusses on microbial ecosystems at the interface of infrastructure and environmental/public health, with a particular focus on drinking water microbial ecology. You can find out more about his research interests at www.pintolab.com.

Read Ameet’s Emerging Investigators article ‘Microbial communities in full-scale drinking water distribution systems’ here.



How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?
My first research article was on development of process strategies to mitigate the impact of toxic contaminant spills on wastewater treatment plants and this one is on microbial communities in drinking water systems. Over the years, I have moved from process engineering to microbial ecology while also transitioning from one end of engineered water cycle (wastewater) to the other (drinking water). It has been a fun learning experience; one that has helped me appreciate the critical relationship between microbiology, technology, and environmental/public health.

– What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?
I have been thinking a lot lately about how we could predict and (possibly) control microorganisms that end up in our water supply system. It’s really not very novel – wastewater engineers and treatment plant operators have been doing it for a long time. It’s just that a majority focus in the drinking water field has been on eliminating biology rather than exploiting it – and that’s the space where I think there is lots of room for innovative thinking and exciting research.

– What do you see as the biggest challenge or threat to drinking water distribution systems?
In the immediate future – water conservation. Enforcing water conservation practises at the consumer’s end without addressing the legacy infrastructure that transports water to them seems short sighted. It will have significant implications for water quality and safety.

– How did you find out about the Environmental Science journals and how was your experience publishing with us?
I don’t remember how I heard about the Environmental Science journals, but I have been reading papers in Environmental Science: Process and Impacts for a few years now and was really happy to see the launch of Environmental Science: Water Research and Technology in 2015. My experience with the submission and review process was excellent and look forward to submitting here again in the future.

– We can see you are active on Twitter (@watermicrobe). What are your views on social media and academia?
Addictive and essential. I have new collaborations courtesy of Twitter with great researchers I have never met in person! Three things I love about twitter: (1) stay up-to-date on what’s new in research – particularly in fields outside my own, (2) bioinformaticians talk shop there, and (3) good venue to promote some of your own work to a broader audience. And also, @DrScienceCat

– In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?
I will be at ASM Microbe 2016 in June. I am co-convening a session on the Urban Water Cycle Microbiome with Lut Raskin at that conference. I will also be at the International Society of Microbial Ecology Conference in August and the Microbial Ecology in Water Engineering conference in September. It is shaping up to be an exciting summer!

– How do you spend your spare time?
Netflix.

– Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?
If not a scientist, I think I would have been teacher. As a University Faculty, I get to do both. #winning

– Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?
Talk about your ideas often and openly. If it is a good one, someone might offer to help you out with it or if they are already working on it, they’ll invite you to collaborate. If it is a bad one, someone might talk you out of it.

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