Archive for the ‘Emerging Investigators’ Category

Emerging Investigator Series – Xiao Su

Xiao Su is an Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and an Affiliate of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He obtained his Bachelor in Applied Sciences in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo in 2011, and PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2017. His group focuses on the design of stimuli-responsive materials for advanced separations, and the fundamental study of molecular selectivity at electrochemical interfaces. Current research directions of interest include developing electrochemically-mediated separations for (a) for water treatment, resource recovery, and environmental remediation, (b) critical element recovery and fine chemical purification, and the (c) integration of reactions and separations for process intensification. Since joining Illinois, Xiao has been the recipient of the NSF CAREER Award (2019), the ACS Victor K. Lamer Award (2020), and the ISE-Elsevier Prize for Green Electrochemistry (2021).

Read his Emerging Investigator article “Emerging investigator series: electrochemically-mediated remediation of GenX using redox-copolymers” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on the electrochemical remediation of PFAS from water. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My research has evolved significantly from my first article, which came from my undergraduate work at the University of Waterloo. I did my first co-op internship at the School of Optometry at UW, back in the winter of 2007. The article was published in 2009, presenting accurate measurements of the density of bovine ocular components. And yes, the experiments did involve collecting cow eyes and dissecting them!

Since then, my research has evolved significantly, both through my PhD at MIT and my tenure-track research here at UIUC, to encompass areas of research in chemical engineering, environmental engineering, and materials chemistry. My current group at UIUC focuses on developing new separation processes to solve energy and sustainability problems, including the integration of reaction and separations for water treatment and environmental remediation. The principal platform explored by my group are redox-active materials, which through electron-transfer, can modulate adsorption and release of target molecules, while providing selectivity.

Our recent article at ESWRT came from the very timely need for PFAS remediation. PFAS are a difficult yet highly interesting challenge for separations science, due to their unique properties and chemical stability. Our contribution is a demonstration of the capabilities of redox-polymers to selectively remove PFAS electrochemically and assist in environmental remediation, with a focus on GenX. I hope our work can help provide sustainable and efficient alternatives to this very timely environmental challenge.

In sum, I would say that research trajectories can often surprise us, such as going from bovine eyes to electrochemical water treatment!

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

I am very excited about the growing interest in electron-transfer based technologies, and the opportunities for connecting fundamental molecular interactions with practical environmental processes. It has been exciting to see how our insights at a molecular and nanoscale can have an impact on macroscopic selectivity and the adsorption performance.

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

I think important questions include (1) how electrochemical systems can achieve or maintain molecular selectivity within complex matrices, especially with different water sources and co-contaminants, and (2) to understand why these selectivity arise, and on the long-term, gain more predictive capabilities over the materials design.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Broadly for electrochemical separations, it is always challenging to find the balance between capacity, selectivity, and stability, and solutions often focus on one or at most two of the components. On the long-term, systems may need to meet all three criteria to be translatable to large-scale applications. I think this will require interdisciplinary collaborations between different academic fields, partnerships with industrial stakeholders, etc.

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

I usually attend the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring meeting (including the ENVR division sessions), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) meeting in the Fall, and the Electrochemical Society (ECS). Internationally, I often attend the International Society of Electrochemistry (ISE) meetings, and the biannual CDI&E meetings. I look forward to connecting more with the broader community from ESWRT at future conferences and events!

How do you spend your spare time?

I really enjoy playing/watching soccer, some occasional Fifa on the Xbox, and more often, just hanging out with friends and family. My family and friends live now in various different places, so traveling is always a large part of my holiday activities.

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

I would definitely want to be a manager/coach for a soccer team. I have watched soccer since growing up in Brazil, and I have followed both the Brazilian national team and my home team Fluminense. More recently, I have watched a lot more of the English Premier League. I find all aspects of the managerial side fascinating, including the team selection and tactics, style of play, as well as all the excitement surrounding the transfer market.

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

Do not be afraid to be creative, and try to come up with new solutions. I think even when all questions seem to be answered in a certain topic or area, there could be surprising insights and innovation if we think outside the box.

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Emerging Investigator Series – James Landon

Dr. James Landon is the Founder & CTO of PowerTech Water, Inc. (PTW), a water treatment start-up company in Lexington, KY and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Landon has spent over a decade on electrochemical water treatment, carbon electrode synthesis and surface chemistry, and electrochemical engineering including. Prior to transitioning to full-time employment at PTW in 2019, Dr. Landon was a Research Program Manager at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research, where he lead or helped to lead many state and federal research projects. He has authored and co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications and patents filed in the field of electrochemical separations as well as numerous conference presentations. Dr. Landon received his BS in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University in 2006 and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2011.

Read his Emerging Investigator article “Emerging investigator series: local pH effects on carbon oxidation in capacitive deionization architectures” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Local pH Effects on Carbon Oxidation in Capacitive Deionization Architectures. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Initial research focused on the importance of carbon structure towards its desalination properties. However, it became evident early on that desalination with carbon electrodes depended on more than just the pore space and that surface properties of the electrode played one of the most critical roles. Since this realization, along with other exciting work completed in the field of capacitive deionization, manipulation of these surface properties allowed for the creation of an exciting new desalination technique, which was coined inverted capacitive deionization. Publications from Gao et al. and Omosebi et al. highlight the importance of these advances. In more recent years, the variance of carbon surface surface properties in relation to the bulk pH and the local pH has been used to further evaluate and advance capacitive deionization systems, which was the focus of this manuscript.

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

I am most excited on how local pH effects can be used to perform more refined and selective salt separations. There is some exciting work being carried out by others in this area as well, and it could lead to more widespread adoption of capacitive deionization as a separation technique.

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

Coordinating carbon electrode properties under various electrolyte conditions in order to perform specific separation processes is quite intriguing. Competing with membrane-based technologies to conduct general salt removal will be tough given currently available commercialized systems. If carbon surface characteristics can be used for designed separations that can be modulated under applied voltages, there could be some notable breakthroughs achieved in the field.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The ability to achieve not only a separation but also achieve it reliably is quite important. This necessity means that longer experiments must be performed, and a multitude of characterization techniques must be carried out in addition to taking into account electrolyte compositions. All of these factors lead to needing a diverse research group to assess all of these factors. While this makes the research exciting, it also means that coordination and planning are needed to achieve reliable and impactful results.

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

Typically, you can find me at Electrochemical Society conferences as well as CDI&E conferences, which are held every other year.

How do you spend your spare time?

I truly like to reconnect with nature as much as I can in my spare time. Hiking, running, and playing tennis are all great activities to me. I find that spending time outdoors can help provide clarity in the ever increasing pace of the world.

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

Funny enough, I nearly pursued a career as a lawyer, specifically in the area of patent law. While I am certainly glad that I choose to pursue a career in science, the legal profession was next on my interest list.

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

Keep your ears open. People can surprise you with their insights. Also, there is no substitute for hard work. It is discipline that keeps us all moving forward.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Ray Xiao

Ray received his Ph.D. degree from the Ohio State University, U.S, following two years postdoctoral training in Stockholm University, Sweden. He took up a faculty position at Central South University, China, where he is now a full professor. His research topics cover a diverse set of organic contaminants related investigations. He is interested in understanding how to remove trace organic contaminants using advanced oxidation technologies and how to develop different modelling tools to predict reaction kinetics and mechanisms. He has received over 5 M (RMB) in research funding and has over 80 publications. His h-index is 35, and there are 15 papers selected as ESI (Essential Science Indicator) 1% highly cited papers. He was awarded for excellent reviewers for many renowned journals. He also severs as associate editor for Environmental Chemistry Letters, editorial boards for Chemical Engineering Journal, Process Safety and Environmental Protection, and Scientific Reports.

Read his Emerging Investigator article “Emerging investigator series: Could superoxide radical be implemented in decontamination processes?” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on superoxide radicals. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I did ultrasound sonochemistry for my Ph.D. degree back in Columbus Ohio. I remember one of reactive oxidative species bursting from cavitation bubbles was said to be superoxide radical. For a long period of time, I really wanna understand what kinds of role does it play and how it can be implemented into decontamination processes. But I cannot find too much information on this radical from environmental engineering perspective. So shortly after being academically independent, me and my students developed a reliable approach to generate superoxide radical at micromolar level in aqueous solution. We then constructed an in situ long-path spectroscopy to investigate the kinetics and mechanisms of superoxide-mediated degradation of various organic contaminants. This perspective is based on our knowledge accumulation on superoxide radical these years. We hope that the perspective motivates researchers in the field of water quality and treatment for further exploration of this exciting area.

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

I am really into the reactivity and reaction mechanisms of superoxide radical with various organic contaminants. The fundamental knowledge we gained will be beneficial to environmental engineers/chemists.

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

In this paper, we emphasize challenges that we are facing ahead (e.g., lack of solid kinetic reactivity data, unclear synergistic mechanisms with other ROS). We believe that the environmental applications of superoxide chemistry deserve more thorough debate in the water engineering communities,

What do you find most challenging about your research?

I found elucidation of reaction mechanism is always a difficult task to do, especially in a complex system with different kinds of radicals coexisting.

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

I usually attend the ACS conference and National Conference on Environmental Chemistry in China.

How do you spend your spare time?

With my family. I spend lots of time with my daughter Jiyuan.

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

I am very passionate about writing. If I didn’t embark on the academic path, I guess I could be a novel writer?

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

I am honored to be able to share some of my professional experience here. I did learn a lot is that we should be bold and try hard when good ideas come to minds right away.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Changseok Han

Dr. Changseok Han is currently an Assistant Professor in Department of Environmental Engineering at the INHA University, Korea. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Department of Environmental Engineering at Yeungnam University, Korea, in 2005 and 2007, respectively. Dr. Han achieved his Ph.D in Environmental Science and Engineering program, Department of Biomedical, Chemical, and Environmental Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, USA in 2014. He received the ORISE Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from 2014 to 2018 to work at The Office of Research and Development at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Cincinnati, OH, USA (Now, it is the Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response (CESER)). Dr. Han has published more than 70 scientific papers (H-index of 31) in high impact journals, including Environmental Science & Technology, Applied Catalysis B: Environmental, Chemical Engineering Journal, Chemical Communications, Environmental Science: Nano, and Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology.

His research interests are (i) Water treatment using advanced oxidation processes, (ii) Environmental nanotechnologies, (iii) Environmental chemistry, (iv) Treatment/sensing of algal toxins in surface waters, (v) Green chemistry, (vi) Nutrient recovery using nanotechnology in surface water and wastewater, (vii) Fate and transport of nanomaterials from commercial products in the environment and (viii) Formation and release of microplastics from polymer-nanomaterial composites by environmental aging. Currently, he is focusing on the development of innovative technologies for monitoring and removal of microplastics in the environment.

Read his Emerging Investigator article “Emerging investigator series: Quaternary treatment with algae-assisted oxidation for antibiotics removal and refractory organics degradation in livestock wastewater effluent” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Quaternary treatment with algae-assisted oxidation for antibiotics removal and refractory organics degradation in livestock wastewater effluent. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I have been extensively studied “Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs) for Environmental Remediation” since I entered into “Research World” to pursue my Master degree. Even though my knowledge and experience of AOPs are still being updated and expanded, most of them were obtained during my Ph.D. However, most of my research focused on very fundamental and scientific aspects of environmental engineering and science so I was eager to use them for solving real environmental problems, in particular, regional issues.

For this paper, my expertise in AOPs was used to take care of regional environmental issues of the presence of antibiotics in surface waterbodies. As known, an ample amount of antibiotics is commonly used to control livestock diseases but treated livestock wastewater by conventional wastewater treatment processes still contains significant amounts of antibiotics. Therefore, antibiotics in the treated wastewater directly enter into surface water, which can cause not only adverse effects on the health of humans, animals and ecosystems but also, an explosion of antibiotic resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes. To discharge safe treated wastewater to surface waterbodies, further treatment, known as “Quaternary treatment”, is extensively required. An AOP is successfully used as the combination of algal treatment and subsequent oxidation for the improvement of antibiotics removal and refractory organics degradation in the effluent of livestock wastewater treatment processes. I am very excited to practically start applying AOPs to solve new real environmental problems in Korea as well as in the world.

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

Currently, we are facing “Microplastics problems” over the world even though their toxicity is still controversial. At the moment, I am interested in developing reliable technologies for decomposing microplastics in the environment. I believe that AOPs could be promising technologies to degrade them in the environment.

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

The investigation of degradation mechanism of antibiotics by the combination of algal treatment with AOPs and subsequent oxidation will be important but very challenging. Due to the presence of many antibiotics with different trace levels in livestock wastewater effluents, not all reaction intermediates produced during the treatment could effectively identified. Much effort to understand the degradation mechanisms and pathways must be put for the development of reliable treatment technologies to protect the health of humans, animals and the ecosystem.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Among AOPs, I am extensively developing highly effective catalysts to decompose water contaminants of emerging concern in wastewater and sources of drinking water supplies. Therefore, their practical applicability in treatments processes is the most challenging since additional treatment processes may be required. Also, for practical, the scalability of AOPs and the mass production of catalysts at industrial level are significant challenging at all times.

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

Hopefully, I would like to attend ACS meetings when we are free from COVID-19.

How do you spend your spare time?

I usually spend my spare time with my family. I also like listening to music and playing soccer.

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

I might be a soccer player. I was a soccer-crazy boy when I was a child.

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

Keep exploring black boxes, be patient and be yourself.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Xiaocheng Jiang

Xiaocheng Jiang is the John A. and Dorothy M. Adams Faculty Development Assistant Professor at Tufts University. He received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Harvard University in 2011. Prior to joining Tufts, he was an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. He is the recipient of NSF CAREER award (2017) and AFOSR young investigator award (2018). His lab is interested in exploring the unique physics and chemistry at the interface between living and artificial systems, with top priorities on (1) developing  bio-integratable platforms for probing, interrogating, and directing biologically significant processes; and (2) pursuing bio-derived materials and bio-inspired approaches for applications in energy harvest/storage, chemical sensing, and water treatment.

Read his Emerging Investigator article “Emerging investigator series: Emerging biotechnologies in wastewater treatment: from biomolecular engineering to multiscale integration” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on emerging biotechnologies for wastewater treatment. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I was initially trained as a chemist working at materials/biological interfaces. My lab has specific interest in bio-inspired systems and approaches for various engineering applications. This frontier review article reflects our latest effort on biologically enabled solutions for water research.

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

I am extremely excited about the unique capability of engineered biosystems in environmental science, particularly for wastewater treatment. The possibility to design and program the bio-processors from the bottom up to enhance the treatment performance is simply amazing.

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

Some of the most important questions (to bioengineers) include: what’s the fundamental limits and structure-function relationships that determine the overall performance; how to rationally design and construct these systems at meaningful biological length scales to implement efficient water treatment; etc.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Most of our research effort to date has been under laboratory conditions. The translational application of engineered biosystems in real, complex environment, as well as their long-term ecological impact is yet to be critically examined.

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

I usually attend the annual MRS, ACS and BMES conferences. Looking forward to meeting and discussing with other colleagues/potential collaborators about the exciting opportunities in this highly interdisciplinary field.

How do you spend your spare time?

Reading, music, sports, photography.

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

I am very passionate about photography. I could have become a photographer (or at least a photogear collector) if not in academia.

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

While I don’t see myself qualified to share advice/wisdom yet, I did learn a lot from my former advisors about the importance of always staying open-minded to fearlessly pursue important scientific questions that truly excite you (vs. the “safest” or “fundable” ones).

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Emerging Investigator Series – Chu Wenhai

Dr. Chu Wenhai is currently a professor of  College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Tongji University. Dr. Chu’s research is mainly focused on the identification, formation, and control of disinfection by-products (DBPs) in drinking water. As project leader, he presided over 10 national scientific research projects and National Natural Science Foundation research projects about drinking water treatments and DBPs. He obtained 15 authorized national invention patents, some of which have been  applied successfully in large-scale water utilities in China. Dr. Chu and his team have published more than 100 SCI articles in leading journals (H index=29 with over 3000 citations). Moreover, he was elected to National Ministry of Environmental Protection Youth Top Talent Program, Shanghai Youth Top Talent Program, Shanghai Youth Science Technology Topstar  Program, and Tongji University Youth 100 Program. He is the secretary general of IWA Disinfection Professional Committee and the member of IWA China Youth Committee. He is also contributing as an editor to SCI journals such as Journal of Water Supply: Research and Technology-AQUA(associate editor);Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology (ESWRT) (guest editor). He was also the recipient of  the “National Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Nomination Award”, “Shanghai Graduate Outstanding Achievement Award”, “Shanghai Science and Technology Progress First Prize”, “Shanghai Science and Technology Progress Second Prize” and “China International Industrial Expo Bronze Award”.

Read his Emerging Investigator article “Emerging investigator series: Formation of brominated-haloacetamides from trihalomethanes during zero valent iron reduction and subsequent booster chlorination in drinking water distribution” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Formation of brominated-haloacetamides from trihalomethanes during zero valent iron reduction and subsequent booster chlorination in drinking water distribution. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Actually, my first SCI paper in Ph. D. was about DBPs. I started my Ph.D. in 2007, and was employed as a professor in Tongji University since 2016. I was dedicated to DBP research during the decade and published over 100 SCI paper till now. Under the support of the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Major Science and Technology Project, I have long sought to explore the identification, formation and control of DBPs, putting forward innovative theories and inventing comprehensive control methods of DBPs.

Despite DBPs have been studied extensively for decades, little knowledge is available regarding the formation of DBP during water distribution. Surprisingly, we found interesting reactions in the scenario of booster chlorination, which drives us to conduct the recent study. Also, DBP formation in wastewater collection system should also be concerned because a lot of disinfectants were used and discharged into wastewater collection system during the COVID-19 epidemic.

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

The most exciting thing to me is to applied research results to water engineering and industry. Some analytical methods we developed has applied successfully in Chinese water utilities and testing centers; DBP control technologies we invented are efficiently in improving water quality and are playing a role in dozens of large-scale waterworks with the capability up to 10,000,000 cubic meters per day, serving for tens of millions of people. As one of the constitutors, I was engaged in the establishment of DBP guidelines and regulations, including the first drinking water standard and the first N-DBPs local regulation, which is also very thrilling and delightful to me.

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

What’s the most important toxicity mechanism of DBPs? Which DBPs are most harmful in drinking water? To what extent DBP formed in disinfected wastewater can affect aquatic ecosystem? Which DBPs are most important in coming decades and supposed to be regulated?  What kind of DBP regulation are both efficient and economic?

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The underling mechanism between water quality and health, including drinking water versus human health and wastewater versus ecological health.

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

The 13th IWA International Conference or Gordon conference on disinfection and oxidation.

How do you spend your spare time?

I spend most of my spare time reading research articles and discussing with students. I enjoy playing soccer with a bunch of colleagues and friends. I also spend some quality time with my family.

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

Doctor.  Saving lives is the duty of doctors. Likely, we are doctors for water, coming up with different therapies for ill water varying symptoms. Our mission is to provide people safer, healthier and higher quality water

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

Concentrate on one thing and believe it.

Focus and dedication are codes for career success. Never give up!

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Emerging Investigator Series – Roland Cusick

Roland D. Cusick is currently an assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He earned his B.S. in Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Riverside (2005), and holds an M.S. (2010) and Ph.D. (2013) in Environmental Engineering, both from the Pennsylvania State University. Roland has published 33 scientific papers (H-index of 21) in high impact journals such as Science, Energy and Environmental Science, and Environmental Science & Technology. The primary research areas of Dr. Cusick’s lab at UIUC include: (i) Electrochemical separations with energy storage materials- materials, process modeling, and systems analysis; (ii) Kinetic process modeling of nutrient recovery from wastewater and grain processing facilities; and (iii) Bio-electrochemical sensing for wastewater treatment system optimization.

Read his Emerging Investigator article “capacitive deionization for selective removal of nitrate and perchlorate: impacts of ion selectivity and operating constraints on treatment costs” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Seriespaper focuses on capacitive deionization for selective removal of nitrate and perchlorate: impacts of ion selectivity and operating constraints on treatment costs. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My work has evolved quite a bit since the first two papers I published as an undergraduate. A primary motivation for pursuing an Environmental Engineering degree came from growing up in Los Angeles in the 80’s and 90’s where we regularly couldn’t play on the playground due to high ozone levels. As a junior at the University of California, Riverside, I was fortunate to work with Janey Arey and Roger Atkinson on gas phase reactions redox reactions of organic compounds in the presence of ozone and hydroxyl radicals. I am eternally grateful to these two for encouraging my interest in research and entrusting me with my own projects. While I really loved the solitude and tactile experience of experimental work, I didn’t feel enough passionate for the topic to pursue a PhD in that field of research.

Following the completion of my BS, I spent a couple of years working as an environmental consultant. The experience of managing energy intensive soil and groundwater remediation technologies motivated me to pursue a career focused on resource recovery from waste. I spent five years working with Professor Bruce Logan at Penn State University to develop microbial electrochemical technologies for energy, nutrient, and heat recovery. My graduate research highlighted the need for process modeling and systems analysis of novel treatment technologies.

As an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I have been driven to establish a balance between experimental work with novel materials and systems analysis to guide future research and development. The paper we published as a part of this Emerging Investigator series strikes this balance well by connecting an ion-selective capacitive deionization process model to life-cycle treatment costs for two oxyanion pollutants.

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

I’m very excited by our work that connects the first principles of pollutant removal and resource recovery to cost. We are pursuing these lines of research in both electrochemical separations and nutrient recovery from wastewater.

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

In the field of electrochemical separations, I think the most important questions to ask and answer are: (i) what pollutant characteristics create a competitive advantage for electrochemical separations, (ii) what materials exist or can be developed to selectively remove pollutants and extend system lifetime? And (iii) how do we most effectively integrate these technologies with intermittent renewable energy systems?

What do you find most challenging about your research?

I have found it challenging to balance a strong desire for collaboration with the need to develop independence and as principle investigator.

 In which upcoming conferencesor events may our readers meet you?

Given the novel coronavirus pandemic, I am not sure when I will resume attendance of in-person conferences but in the past I have attended meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC), and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP). I’d also like to plug the fourth Capacitive Deionization & Electrosorption Conference (https://www.cdie2021.com/) I am organizing alongside my colleagues Marta Hatzell and Xiao Su which will be held at Georgia Tech in May of 2021.

How do you spend your spare time?

I have two small children so most of my free time is spent caring for them. Brief solitary moments are spent practicing yoga and skateboarding.

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

Most of my early adolescence was spent trying to become a professional skateboarder but I wasn’t good enough to make a living at it! Before deciding to pursue graduate school, I considered culinary school because I really enjoyed working in commercial kitchens. I still get to cook for those I love and skateboard in my free time and things have worked out pretty well so far with research so I’m comfortable with my choices. A more practical answer is I would likely be working for a water technology start-up or a wastewater utility.

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

One thing I have learned is to not take negative feedback personally. When a response to your work, be it from your supervisor, reviewers, or colleagues, is over the top with negativity, that is an indication of how that person feels about themselves and not a reflection of the quality of your work or your worth as a scientist. Academia is filled with large and overly sensitive egos so keep that in mind as you navigate this institution. Pick out the constructive pieces and keep it moving.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Seungdae Oh

Seungdae Oh is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Kyung Hee University. Prior to joining KHU, he was an assistant professor (2015–2017) in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and a postdoctoral research associate at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received his PhD from Georgia Institute of Technology, after obtaining his BS from Chung Ang University and MS from KAIST in Korea, respectively.

He is interested in diverse aspects of environmental microbiology and biotechnology. Recent interests include fate, risk, and abatement of micropollutants, antibiotic resistance, and infectious pathogens in urban water cycles and advanced biological treatment of water and waste streams.

Read his Emerging Investigator article “activated sludge upon antibiotic shock loading: mechanistic description of functional stability and microbial community dynamics” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on activated sludge upon antibiotic shock loading: mechanistic description of functional stability and microbial community dynamics. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My master’s study involved process optimization of anaerobic sludge systems treating organic wastes. One day, I happened to look at tiny microbes swimming in the sludge through a microscope, which fascinated/led me to be more interested in microbial communities and their life. I could learn about ecology and develop genomic/bioinformatic techniques for characterizing diverse microbial communities during my PhD/postdoctoral works. Those fundamentals/techniques (and still with a microscope) help our laboratory explore microbes in sludge and various environments

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

I’m excited when I find out the role of a microbe in the environment one-by-one. The more excited is that there are countless to be characterized.

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

Water can be circulated via closed loops in urban cities, from toilet to tap. Since microbes/viruses (harmful or beneficial) are always carried with water, it would be interesting to address how they travel, whether they matter for health, and what affects their traveling.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Training students is challenging but worthwhile.

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

No plan due to the pandemic. Conferences I often attend include IWA, ASM Microbe and ISME.

How do you spend your spare time?

Spending time with my family. We enjoy going to parks/playgrounds and travel over the country.

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

If I had to pick, maybe performing art? I participated in a school theater club and performed acting in a play. I didn’t do well but surely enjoyed.

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

Work hard but not to the extent disturbing the family.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Noémie Elgrishi

Noémie Elgrishi is an assistant professor in the Chemistry Department at Louisiana State University. She began her higher education in Paris at École Normale Supérieure and Université Pierre et Marie Curie – Paris VI. During her Master’s degree she studied host-guest chemistry with Johnathan Nitschke at the University of Cambridge and energy storage with Daniel Nocera at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Next, she completed her PhD on electrocatalytic reduction of carbon dioxide under the guidance of Marc Fontecave in Collège de France in Paris. She then pursued postdoctoral studies under the mentorship of Jillian Dempsey at UNC-Chapel Hill, which focused on mechanistic investigations of proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) processes.

Read her Emerging Investigator article “Carbon Electrodes are Effective for the Detection and Reduction of Hexavalent Chromium in Water” and read more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Carbon Electrodes for the Detection and Reduction of Hexavalent Chromium in Water. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My background is in chemistry for environmental and energy-related challenges. A key aspect of the research is focused on understanding the fundamental processes that underpin the key transformations. These transformations all rely on the movement of protons and electrons in either a stepwise or concerted fashion. These processes are, for example, central to the chemistry of catalytic mechanisms for energy storage. My first paper as a first author was on photocatalytic H-X splitting with a focus on enhancing the stability of catalysts. This work was in the lab of Dan Nocera, at MIT at the time. This theme stayed with me throughout my PhD in Paris with Marc Fontecave. I was then exploring the mechanism of simple complexes for electrocatalytic reduction of carbon dioxide. The focus was on strategies to both control the competition between the production of hydrogen and of carbon containing fuels and orient the stability of the catalysts. These reactions all rely on understanding the detailed mechanisms of the chemical transformation, in particular the movements of protons and electrons (Proton Coupled electron transfer, or PCET). I continued this thread as a postdoctoral researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill under the mentorship of Jillian Dempsey.

It occurred to me that PCET reactions are central to much more than energy storage. As I started my independent career, I decided to expand beyond 2-electron/2-proton processes and explore how these reactions could impact the chemistry of oxyanions, in particular for water purification. This led me to study the electrochemistry of hexavalent chromium in water, as the fundamental challenge is the reduction of Cr(VI) to Cr(III) in an energy efficient manner. This relies on facilitating the movement of protons and electrons in PCET transformations. In this new paper, my group explores the reactivity in the absence of catalysts, and demonstrates that carbon electrodes are effective for both the detection and the reduction of Cr(VI). We identify a key rate limiting PCET step across a wide range of conditions, and we are looking forward to developing catalysts for these transformations.

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

My lab currently focuses on several projects related to energy and the environment. Parts of my lab are exploring how to use confinement of molecular catalysts to improve stability for sustainability. We are also exploring ways to encapsulate and selectively degrade emerging contaminants, as well as how solvent interactions shape the properties of ions in solution. All these projects rely on understanding PCET and non-covalent interactions.

For water purification, I am excited to explore electrochemical methods to control PCET processes in the reduction or oxidation of oxyanions. Oxyanions are a large class of polyatomic ions which impact our water. We can think of nitrite, nitrates, phosphate, sulfate from agriculture for example, or arsenate, pertechnetate, and, of course, chromate.

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

I truly believe that to advance beyond making observations of higher efficacy/activity/selectivity, we need to focus on understanding the mechanisms of underlying transformation. In particular, for hexavalent chromium reduction in water, I believe that understanding the mechanisms of the PCET processes involved is the key to cheaper and more effective water purification technologies. Shifting away from a concern about IF things happen and towards HOW things happen is a difficult but exciting task! In general, I think recognizing the strong influence of acid specificity, beyond simply the solution pH, will have a huge impact of the understanding of PCET in water.

The understanding of the fundamental steps will allow the development of catalysts for these transformations, mimicking the development of energy storing catalytic cycles, with a goal of highly active, selective and long-lasting catalysts for functionalized electrodes.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

When considering the chemistry of oxyanions in water, especially for chromate, the speciation is highly sensitive to conditions. This leads to challenges in measuring accurate thermodynamic data. As a result, a lot of the fundamental numbers and constants are not yet fully fixed in the literature.

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

This is a tough one with Covid-19. If the conferences are not cancelled, I will be at the Fall ACS in San Francisco in August 2020 as part of the GSSPC symposium Pushing the Boundaries: Women Scientists Catalyzing Change. I am also looking forward to the 2020 Joint SE-SW Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans in October where I will be organizing a symposium on Energy and the Environment. Whether or not the current situation is under control enough for these conferences to meet in safe conditions is another question!

How do you spend your spare time?

I spend time cooking and I enjoy walking. The LSU campus is fantastic for walking, and I am still amazed by the wonderful live oak trees everywhere.

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

It is hard to imagine a career not related to science at all. I used to really enjoy learning new languages, so probably a translator.

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

Read broadly and attend talks/seminars outside your field. It helps to make new connections between ideas and gain new perspectives.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Biplob Pramanik

Dr Biplob Pramanik is a Lecturer in the Civil & Infrastructure Engineering Discipline and member of Water: Effective Technologies and Tools (WETT) Research Centre at RMIT University, Australia. Before joining RMIT, he worked at LaTrobe University, Australia as a Lecturer and the University of Wollongong as a Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Research Fellow between Jan 2017 and Jan 2019. Biplob obtained his PhD degree from RMIT University in 2016. His research focuses on the development of a technology platform for simultaneous recovery of water, energy and resources from wastewater. His research also focuses on the fate of road dust associated emerging pollutants in stormwater.

Read his Emerging Investigator article “Phosphorus recovery from municipal wastewater by adsorption on steelmaking slag preceding forward osmosis: an integrated process” and read more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on Phosphorus recovery from municipal wastewater by adsorption on steelmaking slag preceding forward osmosis: an integrated process. How has your research  evolved from your first article to this most recent article.

My first paper was on understanding the fate of perfluorinated chemicals in the water environment. Since then I have been focusing on the development of a separation-based technological platform (i.e., adsorption and membrane separation) for removing pollutants and resource recovery (e.g., phosphorus and lithium) from different water sources. This Emerging Investigator Series paper proposed a combined adsorption-membrane process can effectively remove, and thus recover, phosphorus from municipal wastewater. This article will further advance the separation-based technologies for water treatment and resource recovery.

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

My current work focuses on performing mapping (identify, classify and quantify) of the microplastics present in different water sources. At this stage, I am most excited about understanding the fate of road dust associated microplastics in stormwater. We identified the presence of microplastics in Australian road dust and stormwater. We plan to develop a simple flotation process to remove microplastics from stormwater before they are discharged into open waterways.

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

Dissolved air flotation is widely used for removal of suspended and colloidal solids from municipal wastewater and industrial wastewater. However, the fate of microplastics during flotation process is largely unknown. Hence, we need to understand the major kinetics of the interactions between air bubbles and microplastics in the flotation system.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Identifying different types of microplastics is one of the most challenging in my current research.

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

I do not have any plan to travel this year due to COVID19. But I will be attending virtual conference (Challenges in Environmental Science and Engineering) on 7-8 November 2020. I will attend IWA Leading Edge Conference on Water and Wastewater in 2021.

How do you spend your spare time?

I enjoy spending my spare time with my wife. We watch movie together. I usually talk to my parents and relatives.

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

I would like to become a school teacher, more particularly math teacher.

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

I would advise to early career researcher for collaborating strategically with people from diverse research portfolio and developing your own research strength.

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