Emerging Investigator Series: Joseph Kasprzyk

Joseph Kasprzyk, Assistant Professor of Civil and Architectural Engineering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you find most challenging about your research?

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

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

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

How do you spend your spare time?

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

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

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

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

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


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