Archive for the ‘Emerging Investigators’ Category

Emerging Investigator Series: Lingxiangyu Li

Professor Lingxiangyu Li is currently an associate professor in the School of Environment, Hangzhou Institute for Advanced Study, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. He received his Ph.D. degree from the Technical University of Munich, Germany in 2013. His research focuses on analytical, fate, and health risk of emerging pollutants particularly nanomaterials in the environment toward nanosafety assessment.

Read Lingxiangyu ’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: Chemical transformation of silver and zinc oxide nanoparticles in the simulated human tear fluids: Influence of biocorona” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Chemical transformation of silver and zinc oxide nanoparticles in the simulated human tear fluids: Influence of biocorona. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Since I began doing PhD study in Germany 11 years ago, I did research on fate, transfromation and environmental risks of engineered nanomaterials. In other words, findings from the first article to this paper all belong to my research interest that fate, transformation and environmental risks of nanomaterials.

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

Definitely, the analytical method development for showing the real concentrations of engineered nanomaterials like Ag-NPs through wastewater treatment plants to environmental water was one of my best work, which makes me very excited. Since I develop robust methods and then applied this method to illustrate environmental issues.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

First, what is the real concentration of engineered nanomaterials in the environment. Second, are nanoparticles at environmetally revelant concentrations a threat to organisms including human?

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The most challenging issue is speciation analysis of nanomaterials in the environmental and biological matrices.

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

The 11st National Conference on Environmental Chemistry in city of Harbin in December 2021

How do you spend your spare time?

Playing Football and reading history books.

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

Being a Military Journalist was my dream during my child period.

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

Do more thinking by yourself, and do more discussion with others.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Alexander Gundlach-Graham

Alexander Gundlach-Graham obtained his Ph.D. in 2013 from Indiana University under the supervision of Prof. Gary Hieftje. His Ph.D. research focused on the development of distance-of-flight mass spectrometry. In 2014, Alex joined the group of Prof. Detlef Günther at ETH Zurich as a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Scholar. At ETH, his research centered on the combination of laser ablation with inductively coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry (ICP-TOFMS) for high-resolution elemental imaging and on the detection of engineered nanoparticles by single-particle ICP-TOFMS. Since 2019 he has been an Assistant Professor at IOWA State University, where his research now focuses on the development and application of atomic mass spectrometry (MS) to address current measurement challenges in environmental and bioanalytical sciences.

Read Alexander’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: automated single-nanoparticle quantification and classification: a holistic study of particles into and out of wastewater treatment plants in Switzerland” (Open Access) and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on automated single-nanoparticle quantification and classification. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I’ve been doing research in mass spectrometry for a while now, but the focus of my research has shifted quite a bit.  My Ph.D. research, which was in the group of Gary Hieftje at Indiana University, focused on the design, construction, and demonstration of a distance-of-flight mass spectrometer.  This was an instrumentation-heavy research project, and I really benefited from learning—at a basic level—operation principles of mass spectrometry instruments.  In my post-doc, which was at the ETH Zürich in the group of Detlef Günther, I began working on inductively coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry (ICP-TOFMS) for laser-ablation imaging applications.  Now, I continue to work with ICP-TOFMS, but I focus more on single- (nano)particle characterization.  A common theme in my research has been the use of atomic mass spectrometry to develop new measurement strategies.

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

I am excited about how we continue to improve our understanding of the single-particle measurements and about our work toward developing robust solutions for the high-throughput analysis of diverse nanoparticles.  I hope that our methods will be adopted by members of the growing single-particle ICP-TOFMS research community.  I am excited about sharing our research and seeing where it goes as more minds get involved.  I think sp-ICP-TOFMS will be a key approach going forward as we, and other researchers, continue to expand our understandings of the presence and fate of anthropogenic and natural nanomaterials in the environment.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

Even with the development of sp-ICP-TOFMS, the quantification of anthropogenic nanomaterials in particle-rich environmental samples remains a challenge.  From an analytical perspective, I think that this measurement challenge needs to be resolved in order to build robust and accurate models of the fate and transport of anthropogenic particles in the environment.  This is essential for any monitoring of nano-pollution.  The major challenges here are mass-based detection limits and dynamic range, we still do not have an approach that can measure very small (<10 nm) nanoparticles while also quantifying these nanomaterials across large number concentrations (~100-107 particle/mL) and against particle backgrounds.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Our biggest challenge is data interpretation.  We have now developed robust ways to find and quantify elements in nanoparticles; however, our tools for interpreting this data are at an early stage.  We put a lot of effort in developing approaches to streamline and improve classification of nanoparticle types.

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

I hope that we are able to start attending conferences in person soon; I’m looking forward to meeting colleagues and engaging in impromptu discussions once again.  My conference schedule is still tentative, but I plan to attend the ICEENN conference in Montreal in August, SciX in Rhode Island in September and Winter Plasma Conference in Florida in January of 2022.

How do you spend your spare time?

Pretty much all of my non-working moments are spent with my family.  My partner, Abi, and I have two children: 6 and 4 years old.  Like many families, we’ve spent a lot of time together in the last year.  We like to go on walks, read books, and cook.

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

I would be a baker.  Cooking is one of my hobbies, though I don’t spend as much time or creative energy on it as I would sometimes like.  I don’t make all of my family’s day-to-day bread, but I do a variety of baking: from pizzas, to Swiss “Butterzopf” on the weekends, to (occasionally) sour-dough rye.

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

My advice to early career scientists would be to trust in their own intuition and explore research areas that are inherently fascinating to them.  Research usually involves a mixture of failures and successes; curiosity-driven research makes navigating the downtimes in research more manageable and the fruitful times more satisfying.  “Listening” to your own scientific interests will help you develop specific scientific expertise that allows you to tackle science questions/problems from unique, innovative, perspectives.

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Emerging Investigators – the latest work from rising stars in Environmental Science

We are delighted to share with you a selection of high-impact papers by Emerging Investigators in the field of environmental science and engineering. These papers, published across Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, Environmental Science: Nano, and Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, showcase the breadth of exciting research being conducted by rising stars in our field.

The latest work from rising stars of environmental science

Emerging investigator series: bacteriophages as nano engineering tools for quality monitoring and pathogen detection in water and wastewater
Zeinab Hosseinidoust et al

Emerging investigator series: carbon electrodes are effective for the detection and reduction of hexavalent chromium in water
Noémie Elgrishi et al [OPEN ACCESS]

Emerging investigator series: quantifying silver nanoparticle aggregation kinetics in real-time using particle impact voltammetry coupled with UV-vis spectroscopy
Kathryn R. Riley et al

Emerging investigator series: air conditioning filters as a sampler for semi-volatile organic compounds in indoor and near-building air
Lisa Melymuk et al

Emerging investigator series: activated sludge upon antibiotic shock loading: mechanistic description of functional stability and microbial community dynamics
Seungdae Oh and Donggeon Choi

Emerging investigator series: heterogeneous OH oxidation of primary brown carbon aerosol: effects of relative humidity and volatility
Elijah G. Schnitzler et al

Emerging investigator series: onsite recycling of saline–alkaline soil washing water by forward osmosis: techno-economic evaluation and implication
Wenhai Luo et al

Emerging investigator series: molecular mechanisms of plant salinity stress tolerance improvement by seed priming with cerium oxide nanoparticles
Juan Pablo Giraldo et al

****************************************************************************

The RSC’s Emerging Investigator Series provides a unique platform for early-career environmental scientists & engineers to showcase their best work to a broad audience. Contact us to apply for consideration in this Series. To be eligible, you will need to have completed your PhD (or equivalent degree) within the last 10 years†, have an independent career and appear as corresponding author on the manuscript.

Across the journals, the Emerging Investigator Series is curated by our Series Editors; David Cwiertny, Long Nghiem, Ligy Philip, Delphine Farmer, Lenny Winkel, Guang-Guo Ying and Peter Vikesland.

Read more of our Emerging Investigator Series papers using the links below.

Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts Emerging Investigator Series

Environmental Science: Nano Emerging Investigator Series

Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology Emerging Investigator Series

Also, read the latest interviews with our Emerging Investigators to find out more about their work and the important research challenges that they are tackling.

We hope you enjoy reading these papers from future leaders in the field of environmental science.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Andrea Hicks

Andrea Hicks is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. Her work broadly focuses on the environmental impacts of emerging technologies. She completed her undergraduate studies at Michigan Technological University in Environmental Engineering, and her M.S. in Environmental Engineering at Clemson University. Dr. Hicks completed her doctoral and post-doctoral work at the University of Illinois at Chicago in Civil Engineering and at the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy. She is a recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER award, UW-Madison Community Based Learning Teaching Award, and the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization’s Emerging Investigator Award.

Read Andrea Hick’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: calculating size- and coating-dependent effect factors for silver nanoparticles to inform characterization factor development for usage in life cycle assessment” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on ‘Calculating size- and coating- dependent effect factors for silver nanoparticles to inform characterization factor development for usage in life cycle assessment’. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My role in the article preparation has changed. I was a PhD student when I wrote my first article, working with my advisor Dr. Tom Theis. Whereas now I am the PhD advisor, writing this work with my student Sila Temizel-Sekeryan. Which is a different experience. In general, I have always been interested in emerging technologies, such as engineered nanomaterials. In my first article, as part of my PhD work, I was studying light emitting diodes, and their potential for energy efficiency rebound. And while the rebound effect, or Jevons’s paradox is still part of some of my work, engineered nanomaterials are another interesting emerging technology which like light emitting diodes, have the potential to influence environmental impact due to their ubiquity.

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

This work is particular is really exciting. I have studied the environmental impacts of nano-scale silver in consumer products before, such as textiles, and a question that was always part of that work was how to model the environmental impacts of the nano-scale silver itself as a part of the life cycle assessment. In this work, we took some of the first steps to better understand how to incorporate the impact of the nano-silver itself into the assessment. This work would not have been possible without a great deal of work having already been done by experimentalists in order to understand the toxicity of nano-silver.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

Speaking broadly about emerging technologies, which include engineered nanomaterials, what I think is the most important question is whether or not an advance is societally beneficial. Advances in technology have had a great benefit to society in general, but at the same time there is also an environmental cost. I think that it is critical to evaluate the environmental impacts of  new technologies and potential unintended consequences before they are broadly adopted.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Emerging technologies are often challenging to study, because they are just that, emerging. It is often difficult to obtain enough information to model these products, either using life cycle assessment or other tools. One way to counter this is to work with other researchers who are actually developing these new technologies and products, to secure the necessary information. What is really exciting about working with people who are researching the technologies themselves allows us to use the life cycle assessment data that we generate, to refine the new technology to make it less environmentally costly.

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

2020 is turning out to be an interesting year for conferences and events, with many being cancelled or moved to fully digital formats, particularly in the United States where I live. In general, I like to attend the North American Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry annual meeting, Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization annual meeting, and the International Society for Industrial Ecology meetings. I was fortunate to be able to attend the second Pan-American Nanotechnology Conference in Brazil early this past spring, before everything shutdown. I’m also a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in our Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and in normal times am on campus.

How do you spend your spare time?

That is a particularly interesting question in 2020. Aside from doing work which I love, I am also a mother to two energetic grade school children and have wonderful husband. I like to spend my spare time with them. In spring 2020 when our school district and daycare shutdown, spare time did not really exist anymore, because I was working and teaching remotely, while supervising my children’s online learning.

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

When I was younger, I thought about a lot of different careers, and my main goal was to do something where I felt I could make a difference in the world. Which I know sounds terribly idealistic. I thought for quite a while about being a journalist and writer, documenting people’s stories and bringing them to a wider audience. Or a photographer, like Dorothea Lange, who used her photos to document the human consequences of the Great Depression. Or maybe a medical doctor, making a difference in the lives of my patients. Or a sculptor, bringing art and beauty to the world. It’s actually a really hard question.. I’m lucky that I have a job I really enjoy, where I get to work on cutting edge science, teach and mentor students, and do service in the community.

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

When you see the career trajectory of someone you admire, and wonder how you could ever be that good, you need to remember that they got there one step at a time. It all starts with a single step, applying for an opportunity, or writing a manuscript or defending a dissertation. They didn’t become who they are overnight, it took time. You just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and if you do that diligently you be amazed at the heights you can reach.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Kathryn Riley

Dr. Kathryn Riley is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Swarthmore College. She received her Ph.D. from Wake Forest University in 2014 and was a National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) from 2015 to 2016. Before her current appointment, she was a Consortium for Faculty Diversity (CFD) postdoctoral fellow at Swarthmore from 2016-2018. Dr. Riley’s research involves the development of analytical techniques for the characterization of nanomaterials and their dynamic physical and chemical transformations in biological and environmental matrices. Her research group specifically aims to broaden participation in the field by developing techniques that provide new quantitative insights in less time and at a reduced cost when compared to more commonly employed methods. Projects in her group span the analysis of silver nanomaterials, including their dissolution, aggregation, formation of bio-coronas, and release from commercial products. To learn more about Dr. Riley’s research, visit her lab website or follow her on Twitter.

Read Kathryn Riley’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: Quantifying silver nanoparticle aggregation kinetics in real-time using particle impact voltammetry coupled with UV-vis spectroscopy” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Quantifying silver nanoparticle aggregation kinetics in real-time using particle impact voltammetry coupled with UV-vis spectroscopy. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My interest in nanomaterials began while I was in graduate school. At the time, I was developing capillary electrophoresis (CE)-based methods for screening DNA aptamer libraries against clinically relevant protein targets and using next generation sequencing (NGS) for identification of candidate aptamers. To support some research questions of our collaborators, I ended up developing CE separation methods for sub-micron and micron-sized plastic particles. I found the work of developing analytical tools to study particles to be incredibly interesting, so I knew that I wanted to dive deeper into the field of nanotechnology during my postdoc at NIST. There, I continued my work applying the separation principles of CE to gain new insights about nanomaterials. Over the past several years, my work with undergraduate students at Swarthmore has sought to add to our analytical toolkit by developing electrochemical methods to probe the reactivity of metal and metal oxide nanomaterials. Looking ahead, we are excited to start applying these tools to increasingly complex nanomaterial chemistries and contribute new insights to the field.

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

Of our current projects, there are two that I’m particularly excited about at the moment. The first builds on the electrochemical techniques we have developed in our lab over the past two years to enable in situ quantification of dissolved and nanoparticulate silver released from textiles. Due to the fast time resolution of the measurement, this technique would allow researchers to quantify release kinetics of the two silver forms simultaneously and without the need for sample preparation. The second project involves evaluation of the silver nanoparticle metabolite corona using a model environmental bacterium. Both of these projects allow us to push our instrumental techniques towards analysis of more complex systems, which is challenging, but exciting.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

There are so many! I think one of the biggest challenges is the wide parameter space to be analyzed, including variations in the physicochemical properties of the nanomaterial, changes in its properties as it encounters diverse water, soil, air, and/or biological chemistries, and the varied responses of the environment to the nanomaterial. There are many excellent small-scale benchtop studies and large-scale mesocosm studies, but with so many parameters to explore, what does it all mean and how can we use the rich information gathered from both types of data to predict the behavior of new or unexplored materials?

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Most often the aspects of my work that I find most exciting are also those that are the most challenging. Our lab has spent a lot of time analyzing silver nanomaterials, which can simultaneously dissolve, aggregate, and form bio- and eco-coronas (and form oxides, sulfides, and insoluble chlorides). This complexity presents a significant analytical challenge for our lab and others – how do you ever isolate and study just one of these processes?! Fortunately, as an analytical chemist, these are precisely the challenges that I am most eager to help the community overcome.

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

Whether virtually or in-person, I plan to attend the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization (SNO) conference in October 2020 and the Environmental Nanotechnology Gordon Research Conference (GRC) in June of 2021.

How do you spend your spare time?

As an alumna of Swarthmore and a former student-athlete, I enjoy spending my free time supporting our athletics teams. I volunteer my weekends to help coach our varsity softball team. In the summer, you can find me tending to my vegetable garden or playing in slow pitch softball leagues.

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

I think I would be an architect or interior designer – I used to spend hours as a child designing homes on graph paper and even when I had the chance to reconfigure my laboratory space at Swarthmore, I pulled out my iPad and drafted a to-scale design of every inch of that space. The builders must have thought I was crazy (if not for that then for overseeing the “building site” on an almost daily basis), but they literally made my lab design come to life!

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

I have had the great fortune of having fantastic mentors throughout my trajectory – some who are in my field, some who are not – some who look like me, some who do not. The single most important characteristic that they’ve all had in common is their ability to be solution oriented as I’ve faced challenges in my career, even as those solutions sometimes pushed me outside of my comfort zone. The deep, mutual respect we built in our mentoring relationship allowed for them to give and for me to receive this advice, and I have become a better leader and mentor to my students because of it. Find mentors like those!

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Emerging Investigator Series: Juan Pablo Giraldo

Dr. Juan Pablo Giraldo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of California, Riverside. He initiated working on plant nanobiotechnology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an NSF postdoctoral fellow. He received his Ph.D. in plant biology from Harvard University (2011), and B.S. in both biology and physics from University of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. Since 2015 the Giraldo Lab at UC Riverside works at the interface between plant biology and nanotechnology. Nanomaterials have unique optical, electronic, and chemical properties that have been widely exploited in biomedical research, but their use in plant biology research and agriculture remains largely unexplored. His lab aims to develop nanoparticle-based research tools to study and engineer plant function at levels of organization ranging from organelles to tissues and whole plants. Dr. Giraldo has published 29 peer reviewed articles in leading journals including Nature Materials, Nature Nanotechnology, Nature Communications, ACS Nano, and Nano Letters.

Read Juan Pablo Giraldo ’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: Molecular mechanisms of plant salinity stress tolerance improvement by seed priming with cerium oxide nanoparticles” and read more about him in the interview below:

Lab website: http://www.giraldolab.com

 

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Molecular mechanisms of plant salinity stress tolerance improvement by seed priming with cerium oxide nanoparticles. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My first article on plant nanobiotechnology (Nature Materials, 2014) focused on interfacing plant photosynthetic organelles (chloroplasts) and organs (leaves) to provide them with novel or augmented functions. Since then, I have recently turned my attention to plant structures that play a role in reproduction such as flowers and seeds. By understanding how nanomaterials impact the development of these reproductive structures, we can learn how to induce long term and beneficial modifications of crop plant function through conserved molecular mechanisms.

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

I am most excited about discovering fundamental rules of how nanomaterials interact with plant interfaces and applying this knowledge to develop more efficient agrochemicals, to turn plants into technology that report their health to electronic devices, or to create plants that act as biomolecule factories on demand.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

There are many important questions to be answered in the field of plant nanobiotechnology. In my lab, I am currently focusing on understanding how the plant molecular machinery interacts with and transforms nanomaterials. In turn, how do nanomaterials transform plant biomolecule function and structure? The synergy between plants and nanotechnology has the potential to improve human condition and lead to a more sustainable world.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The diversity of plant structure and function challenges our ability to create nanotechnology-based tools that can be applied across multiple plant taxa. However, plants share multiple common features that we hope are the gates for designing nanomaterials with broad applicability.

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

I enjoy Gordon Research Conferences, especially those on nano-enabled agriculture and environmental nanotechnology, that allow for more in person interactions between researchers. I also present my work at ACS and Sustainable Nanotechnology conferences.

How do you spend your spare time?

With my family and friends exploring the outdoors. We love hiking and camping in natural parks. Being in Southern California, we get to enjoy beaches, mountains and deserts all within a 1-hour drive.

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

I would love to be a nature cinematographer to explore and share the diverse and largely unknown life of all the organisms on this planet.

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

Break boundaries across disciplines, work on an area of your own, and become a leader in your field.

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Emerging Investigators – the latest work from rising stars in Environmental Science

We are delighted to share with you a selection of high-impact papers by Emerging Investigators in the field of environmental science and engineering. These papers, published across Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, Environmental Science: Nano, and Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, showcase the breadth of exciting research being conducted by rising stars in our field.

The latest work from rising stars of environmental science

Emerging investigator series: polymeric nanocarriers for agricultural applications: synthesis, characterization, and environmental and biological interactions
Stacie Louie et al

Emerging investigator series: synthesis of magnesium oxide nanoparticles fabricated on a graphene oxide nanocomposite for CO2 sequestration at elevated temperatures
C. A. Gunathilake et al

Emerging investigator series: use of behavioural endpoints in the regulation of chemicals
Marlene Ågerstrand et al [OPEN ACCESS]

Emerging investigator series: critical review of photophysical models for the optical and photochemical properties of dissolved organic matter
Garrett McKay

Emerging investigator series: primary emissions, ozone reactivity, and byproduct emissions from building insulation materials
Elliott Gall et al

Emerging investigator series: membrane distillation and high salinity: analysis and implications
Andrea Achilli et al

Emerging investigator series: phosphorus recovery from municipal wastewater by adsorption on steelmaking slag preceding forward osmosis: an integrated process
Biplob Kumar Pramanik et al

Emerging investigator series: carbon electrodes are effective for the detection and reduction of hexavalent chromium in water
Noémie Elgrishi et al [OPEN ACCESS]

****************************************************************************

The RSC’s Emerging Investigator Series provides a unique platform for early-career environmental scientists & engineers to showcase their best work to a broad audience. Contact us to apply for consideration in this Series. To be eligible, you will need to have completed your PhD (or equivalent degree) within the last 10 years†, have an independent career and appear as corresponding author on the manuscript.

Across the journals, the Emerging Investigator Series is curated by our Series Editors; David Cwiertny, Jeremy Guest, Long Nghiem, Ligy Philip, Delphine Farmer, Lenny Winkel, Guang-Guo Ying and Peter Vikesland.

 

 

 

Read more of our Emerging Investigator Series papers using the links below.

Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts Emerging Investigator Series

Environmental Science: Nano Emerging Investigator Series

Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology Emerging Investigator Series

Also, read the latest interviews with our Emerging Investigators to find out more about their work and the important research challenges that they are tackling.

†Appropriate consideration will be given to those who have taken a career break or followed a different study path

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Emerging Investigator Series: Melanie Kah

Melanie Kah is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Environment of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. She graduated with a MSc in Agronomy and Soil Sciences (University of Nancy, France), before completing her PhD at the University of York (UK). She was then recruited by the UK Food and Environmental Research Agency (FERA) where she assessed the exposure and hazard of a wide range of contaminants within projects commissioned by government and industry. After a couple of years, Melanie returned to academia and moved to the University of Vienna (Austria). This is where she started developing projects looking at the interactions between organic contaminants and natural/engineered nanoparticles, and nanopesticides in particular. Melanie was Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the CSIRO (2018, Australia) before moving to the University of Auckland in 2019.

Read Melanie Kah’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: Nanotechnology to develop novel agrochemicals: critical issues to consider in the global agricultural context” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Nanotechnology to develop novel agrochemicals: critical issues to consider in the global agricultural context. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I am an agronomist by training. I started my research career looking at conventional pesticides and in particular, how they behave in soil. When I started working in a group with a strong focus on nanotechnology-related research, I was immediately attracted by the idea of using nanotechnology to improve our current approaches for crop protection and nutrition. There was not much happening in this field when I started…and it is fantastic to see how much is going on now!

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

I am excited to see the current wealth of enthusiasm and creativity around the applications of nanotechnology in agriculture, it is fascinating! Something I really enjoy is the opportunity to navigate across scientific communities that apply different approaches and have different perceptions. I find interactions with people outside of my own field very inspiring. I am currently exploring how social scientists can help increasing our impact by creating stronger engagement with a range of stakeholders. Transdisciplinary collaboration helps us to include end users at the earliest stages of development, recognise their values and co-design nano-enabled products that they really need and that they trust, and this is very exciting for me.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

This is a question that our paper intends to address. There are many scientific questions that need to be answered to advance the field, including those around the development of more powerful and accessible analytical techniques, or the improvement in our capacity to synthesize nanoparticles with new functionalities, for instance, particles that can respond to specific stimuli.

If we take a step back and consider the current environmental impact of the agri-food sector, we should also recognise that technology is not always the right avenue to improve efficiency and sustainability. Solutions are multi-faceted and highly context dependent. More work is needed to critically assess the performances of nano-enabled solutions (and other technologies) against the gains achieved by improved agronomic practices for instance, and how this plays out in a given social, economic and political context.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Analytical challenges. I tend to work with organic nanoparticles that cannot be easily detected once in the environment and techniques that are used for metal or metal oxide nanomaterials are often unsuitable. We constantly face analytical challenges, especially because I like working with soil, which adds another layer of complexity.

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

Definitely, the Gordon Research Conference on Nanoscale Science and Engineering for Agriculture and Food Systems. The meeting was planned for June 2020 but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The programme was fantastic including very high profile speakers. The meeting is rescheduled to June 2022 and I warmly recommend to attend! More information is available here. This is a great conference to meet a very friendly, multidisciplinary and inspiring community!

How do you spend your spare time?

The last couple months have been mainly home-based as New Zealand has taken very stringent lock down measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to invent many new indoor activities to keep our toddler entertained and had a lot of fun! I am now really looking forward to travel again and explore New Zealand with my family, do bush walks and discover the native wildlife.

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

I love travelling so perhaps a specialised travel agent for adventurers.

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

Be kind, respectful and inclusive. Find sponsors and be a good sponsor to others when you can.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Quin Miller

Quin Miller is a Research Scientist (Chemist) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, WA, USA. After completing his Geology undergraduate studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA, Quin worked at PNNL as a geochemistry post-bachelor’s research associate under the mentorship of Senior Research Scientist Todd Schaef. Quin then continued his studies for his Geology PhD at the University of Wyoming under the supervision of Prof. John Kaszuba, conducting dissertation research on the “Geochemistry of Multiphase CO2-H2O-Rock Interactions in Nanoconfined Environments.” During his PhD studies, he returned to PNNL on several occasions as a visiting researcher and also spent four months working with Dr. Gernot Rother at Oak Ridge National Lab via the Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Research (SCGSR) Fellowship program. After completing his PhD in August 2017, Quin spent two years as a PNNL geochemistry postdoctoral research associate expanding his experimental, analytical, and professional skillsets under the guidance of Todd Schaef and Laboratory Fellow Dr. Kevin Rosso. In 2019, Quin was recognized with an Outstanding Postdoc Award for exceptional contributions to PNNL, with the nomination criteria including productivity, innovation, dedication, hard work, and strong sponsor impact/visibility. Quin was also elected to the Clay Minerals Society Council for the 2020-2022 term, and recently received a 2020 PNNL Outstanding Performance Award for laboratory safety.

Read Quin Miller’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: ion diffusivities in nanoconfined interfacial water films contribute to mineral carbonation thresholds” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Ion Diffusivities in Nanoconfined Interfacial Water Films Contribute to Mineral Carbonation Thresholds. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I was fortunate to find a great mentor early in my research career, Todd Schaef, who emphasized the importance of continuing my education, setting measurable goals, assembling a strong research team, and producing focused, data-driven manuscripts. When I wrote my first research paper during my post-bachelor’s research position, my primary concerns were learning to complete an investigation, navigate the publishing process, and having a finished product to show to graduate programs. As my graduate studies progressed and I worked to pin down the scope of my dissertation, my advisor, Professor John Kaszuba, reminded me that many highly technical pursuits aren’t just missing the forest for the trees, but missing the forest for the leaves. I also credit John for giving me a lot of latitude to explore ideas and for greatly influencing my writing and thinking styles, including a willingness to get excited about both the big idea and the associated minutiae.

These days, I continue to work with collaborators to probe interfacial processes with PNNL’s world-unique high-pressure experimental suite, including in situ X-ray diffraction, infrared spectroscopy, and nuclear magnetic spectroscopy. I am also fortunate to be working on a broader range of projects led by Laboratory Fellow Dr. Pete McGrail that include subsurface sensing technology R&D and planned field deployments. I am also able to work more closely with staff from PNNL’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) user facility, including Dr. Mark Bowden. Importantly, as we demonstrate in our present Environmental Science: Nano article, molecular modelling insights from Dr. Sebastien Kerisit are providing vital molecular-scale insight into reaction mechanisms and processes observed via experiment. This type of experimental/theoretical crosscut is a signature strength of PNNL’s Basic Energy Science Geochemistry program that is led by Dr. Kevin Rosso.

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

I am most excited about collaboration opportunities and working with investigators with a diversity of backgrounds, ideas, and research interests. It’s exciting to be at the early stages of a career, surrounded by a vibrant mix of established and early-career researchers. I also looks forward to staying diversified enough that I will someday be tackling problems with scientists that have yet to be born and AI collaborators that have not yet come online. In the short term, I will be co-mentoring two students this summer. I am also excited about the continuing development of our laboratory-based in situ X-ray diffraction capability that will enable us to probe an expanded pressure-temperature-composition space and work with a greater variety of samples. Research conducted with this capability will support several PNNL and DOE programs, including those concerned with nucleation and growth of applied functional materials like metal-organic frameworks and atomically-precise heterostructures. Todd Schaef and I are always interested in new collaborations to take advantage of our “24/7” beamtime with our current setup.

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

The most important questions concern how to successfully connect disparate spatial and temporal scales, as quantifying ephemeral atomic- to molecular-scale phenomena is vital to understanding coupled societal- and planetary-scale processes whose ebbs and flows will outlast us all. For example, how do we take molecular-scale insights about interfacial mineral carbonation and clay mineral swelling and use this information to not only predict but control the fate and transport of CO2 in a geologic carbon or hydrocarbon reservoir? Successful bridging between of fundamental and applied science will by absolute necessity involve interdisciplinary collaboration. For instance, a research frontier I am excited to explore concerns coupled geochemical, geophysical, and geomechanical phenomena at the nanoscale, which have outsized yet poorly-understood influences on subsurface energy storage and extraction.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

My biggest challenge is finding time to explore all of the ideas that interest me and choose which ones to pursue in depth! Partly it’s a classic, age-old problem: it’s a lot easier to collect data than to process, interpret, and publish it.

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

Given this worldwide health crisis, nothing is set in stone for my conference schedule. I hope everyone can be as healthy, safe, and united as possible during this difficult time. I was scheduled to present at the Spring American Chemical Society Meeting (Philadelphia, PA) on March 25th, but it has been cancelled due to the global COVID-19 outbreak. I plan to present at the June 15-19 Clay Minerals Society meeting to be held at PNNL (Richland, WA), and the abstract deadline for that meeting is March 15th. I am also co-chairing a session at the June 21-26 Goldschmidt 2020 geochemistry conference in Honolulu, HI and will also present at the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC), which will be held in Austin, TX from July 20-22. In August I plan on presenting at the Department of Energy Carbon Storage project review meeting (Pittsburg, PA) and the Fall ACS meeting (San Francisco, CA), finally wrapping up the calendar year with the December 7-11 American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco, CA.  I may also be reached via quin<dot>miller<at>pnnl.gov and @quinmiller.

How do you spend your spare time?

I enjoy hiking, skiing, tennis, and reading.

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

If I weren’t working as a scientist, I would choose a field that promoted curiosity and inquiry about the natural world and our place in it. I would also enjoy working in an emerging markets startup and getting to interact with movers and shakers from around the globe and assist them in connecting ideas, institutions, and researchers.

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

Never underestimate the power of small habits.

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Emerging Investigator Series: Chamila Gunathilake

Chamila Gunathilake is currently working as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, at the University of Peradeniya. He received his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. He completed his Ph.D. in Nano Science and Engineering at KSU,  OH, USA. His current work focuses on the development of nanoporous and mesoporous carbon silica materials with organic pendant and bridging groups and incorporated metal (aluminum, zirconium, calcium, and magnesium) species for low, ambient, and high-temperature carbon dioxide (CO2) sorption, phosphorous-hydroxy functionalized mesoporous silica materials for water treatment, and amidoxime-modified ordered mesoporous silica materials for uranium sorption under seawater conditions. He has so far received nine awards including three ACS awards: ACS-(Industrial & Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Symposium Award for the year 2015 (ACS 250) and 2016 (ACS 252) and ACS Environmental Chemistry Student Award for the year 2016 (ACS 251) and Presidential Award for Scientific Publication in 2019. His academic career has resulted in approximately 30 publications and 44 international conference papers holding an H factor of 20 and an I-10 index of 15. (ACS-American Chemical Society)

 

Read Chamila Gunathilake’s Emerging Investigator Series article “Emerging investigator series: Synthesis of Magnesium Oxide Nanoparticles Fabricated on Graphene Oxide Nanocomposite for CO2 Sequestration at Elevated Temperatures” and read more about him in the interview below:

 

Recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Synthesis of Magnesium Oxide Nanoparticles Fabricated on Graphene Oxide Nanocomposite for CO2 Sequestration at Elevated Temperatures. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article? 

My first paper, Mesoporous organosilica–alumina composites and their thermal treatment in nitrogen for carbon dioxide sorption at elevated temperatures, was emerged from grad life. During my graduate research life, I have experienced with various metal-organic frameworks (MOF) synthesis, surface characterization, and assembly of nanoscale materials and methods to integrate nanomaterials with other materials via polymer assisted self-assembly process for environmental and catalytic applications, including high-temperature carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration from power plant, treatment of wastewater streams, uranium extraction from seawater. Grad life is the best moment in my life, and it paved the way to increase my boundaries of thought, where I felt my capacity to do something fascinating is still undiscovered inside. This is the first time I worked with graphene and graphene oxide that blended with magnesium to produce nanocomposites and applied to high-temperature CO2 sorption. I obtained impressive results that are highly comparable to the materials I have studied in the past that led to thirtieth publications in 2020.

 

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

 

At the moment, I am interested in designing novel sorbents for polluted water treatment and uranium extraction from seawater. As you know water is essential for life on earth, and consequently, it must be obtained in pure form. Water pollution problems are most serious in large cities in developing countries like my mother country, Sri Lanka. Currenntly, many people are suffering from kidney disease caused by heavy metals and I am trying to find an alternative solution to resolve this issue. Testing specific surface-functionalized mesoporous silica materials for uranium sorption under seawater conditions is another interesting project. Although the concentration of uranium in seawater is only about 3 ppb, a gigantic volume of all oceans (about 1.37 billion Km3) contains about 4.5 billion tons of uranium. I would say, if we can recover only 50 % of this resource, it would be enough to upkeep nuclear reactors worldwide for about 6,500 years. Among many actinide elements, uranium is the major and common fuel for nuclear reactors. Thus, there is a great interest in extracting uranium from seawater and use it as an alternative sustainable energy source. The final goal is to design composite materials with desired porosity, surface area, and functionality by selecting proper metal oxide precursors, organosilanes, and block copolymer templates and by adjusting synthesis conditions for the aforementioned applications

 

In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

 

Uranium extraction from seawater, I believe the most pressing question would be, how can we increase the adsorption capacity and rate of adsorption of uranium with the designed material. Typically to extract 1 Kg of yellow uranium cake, the average submerging time of the sample is six months. Moreover, it is necessary to know how to overcome issues such as handling nanomaterials in seawater and accessing a large amount of seawater for given materials. 

 

Regarding the application of CO2 sorption, there has been an issue to apply those materials under practical operating conditions. Thus, I believe the requirement of proper engineering design and studying recycle stability and reusability studies is mandatory.

 

What do you find most challenging about your research?

 

Any person would love to feel the pristine nature of the environment than a grimy one. We as chemical engineers/ chemists are the major stakeholders responsible for making the planet earth free of venomous debris. So, I firmly believe that it is our responsibility to give back mother nature and its’ glory again. We will be able to rectify at least some percentage of mistakes committed by our own by doing so. I do feel emphasis shown towards the environment should be more and we should be at the forefront of educating the community. I feel that science & engineering helps me to better understand issues regarding carbon dioxide capture, wastewater treatment, uranium extraction, and gives me a chance to make the earth a better place to live. However, getting at the heart of any research question in the Environmental field requires extensive knowledge in other fields. Sometimes, I wish I could have another graduate degree in Environmental, Polymer and Chemical engineering all at once to understand just one piece of the puzzle. Extending into literature outside my comfort zone is always challenging.

 

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

 

I will be in Nano 9, a conference in Poland in September where my graduate advisor holds a co-chair position in Nano 9. 

 

How do you spend your spare time?

 

I enjoy spending time with my staff members, friends, and family members. I most of the time willing to help people who essentially need our hand to live. Outside the academic work, I mostly preferred for traveling through nature made aesthetic places. Most of the spare time, I listen to music and play sports. 

 

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

 

If I were not in academics, I always thought that I’d like to be a travelling guide who helped tourists to travel throughout my small country. 

 

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

 

At different stages of life, we are working on different efficiencies. In case one stage fails, you can turn your life into a better place in the next stage. So, for early-career scientists, I would recommend collaborating strategically with people from different fields and developing your unique research brand. While working with them, learn a lot about teamwork, learn how to interact with different people and share your skills with them. Participate in national and international oral and poster presentations, present your research, encounter cutting-edge science of different fields, hear the latest information in your areas of professional interest, and network with colleagues.

 

 

 

 

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