Emerging Investigator Series – Joseph Goodwill

Joe Goodwill is currently an Assistant Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department in the College of Engineering at the University of Rhode Island, a position he started in the fall of 2017. In this appointment he executes research in physical-chemical processes, water quality, and water-poverty issues. He also teaches classes focused on water treatment and reuse, and environmental analytical techniques. His Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering are from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He also holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Lafayette College. Prior to entering academia, Joe was a Project Engineer for Black & Veatch working on global projects out of their Philadelphia office. He is a licensed Professional Engineer (PE), and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional. Joe also works with multiple international water NGOs, supporting projects in Malawi, India, Ghana, and Bolivia. He received an NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award in 2021.

Read Joseph Goodwill’s Emerging Investigator article “Emerging investigator series: Moving beyond resilience by considering antifragility in potable water systems” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Moving Beyond Resilience by Considering Antifragility in Potable Water Systems. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

In my previous work, I focused exclusively on individual physicochemical processes such as oxidation, adsorption, coagulation, and filtration. My prior research looked at these processes individually without considering overall plant design. Here, my co-authors and I take a system-level view of drinking water plants and articulate a few ways they might be designed differently to best cope with the future. I believe that when we “zoom out” like this, there emerge opportunities to incorporate antifragility into the system so that during periods of volatility, performance improves. This contrasts with being resilient whereby performance would still deteriorate under volatility but recover relatively quickly.

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

This antifragility research is exciting because it is inherently applied research. Potable water systems are struggling with extreme events and volatility right now, and solutions are urgently needed. Fortunately, antifragile processes, such as manganese oxidized media, are at a high technical readiness level. Also, some of the tools available to design antifragile systems, such as artificial neural networks, are beginning to see usage in the field. The challenge is to first consider the antifragile paradigm. Helping water system designers with this is deeply rewarding.

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

The most pressing question is: How do we prepare for climate change and extreme events? I argue in this perspective paper that our best course of action is to embrace these changes rather than take an adversarial posture. Resilience is in conflict with change. To be resilient is to bend and possibly break as a result of stress, but recover relatively quickly. I believe we would do better by becoming antifragile to these changes and thrive when stressed, not just survive. This would decrease reliance on prediction and lead to better water quality.

The next question assuming a water system wants to incorporate antifragility is: How do we become antifragile? In the paper we develop several examples of process changes a plant could make that provide more upside than downside to certain types of volatility. We also develop some tools that would enable antifragile designs. For example, digital twins are an emerging tool gaining traction in the field allowing for “stress testing” of systems to future conditions.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

With the topic of antifragility, the most challenging aspect is getting people to understand it. I also struggled with it, initially. I find that the resilience/robust paradigm is so engrained that often engineers cannot think of an alternative. There are advantages to considering antifragility that water systems designers and managers may find useful. Primary among these advantages is no longer needing precise predictions of the future (that often are not the most accurate). Once we open ourselves up to the antifragile paradigm we can make informed decisions about our water systems. There are downsides too, of course, and one of them is cost. An antifragile system will cost more than a system that is optimized for lowest cost given assumed stationarity. We also describe in the paper a way to consider these additional costs through the process of tradeoff analysis.

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

I can typically be found at the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Water Quality & Technology Conference (WQTC), the Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professors (AEESP) Research and Education Conference, and the American Chemical Society (ACS) Annual Fall Conference. I am also happy to meet virtually (e.g., Zoom etc.) with anyone interested in my work.

How do you spend your spare time?

I enjoy being physically activate, and vacations include hiking or other outdoor activities. Cultivating a love of nature makes me a better environmental engineer. I also like to make music and I am currently teaching myself the banjo.

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

I sometimes daydream that I had a career in the United States military. My heart goes out to all those that wear the uniform. I ultimately feel that being an environmental engineering professor is my highest and best use, and I try to serve my country through research and teaching.

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

Do not pursue money or prestige. Instead, focus on what gives you a sense of purpose and peace. Those are the feelings that will carry you through difficult times in your life, and you should chase them with everything you have. Listen to the still, small voice inside of you. It is trying to tell you something important.

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