Summary: Microorganisms catalyze chemical reactions that can produce valuable products for mankind, for instance, they can produce energy (microbial fuel cells), bioplastics, degrade pollutants, transform and harvest metals (biomining), and can be used in resource recovery (biosorption and biotransformation). Microorganisms that breakdown different types of organic pollution can be introduced into areas as a means to clean up contamination. My research focuses on discovering how microorganisms or their bioproducts can be applied to solve engineering and environmental problems, improve human health, and increase accessibility to high-quality water sources.

Minimum Classes: No specific classes, just a good work ethic and positive attitude.

Projects: Chlorinated organic solvents are the most common pollutants in groundwater in the U.S. Pollution of water supplies by these compounds represent a significant risk to public health, as several are known carcinogens that can result in exposure through drinking water. While engineers have developed treatment technology that uses the ability of microbes to consume these pollutants as food, the process can result in the production of harmful acids that eventually halts activity.

In our lab, we are constructing polymer “armor” that will shield these beneficial microbes in protective capsules called biobeads. These capsules will allow the beneficial microbes to continue to consume chlorinated organic solvents while producing clean water. These biobeads can be used with different microbes to address many environmental problems, with applications in many other fields including drug delivery, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and wastewater treatment. If successful, this project will help protect the Nation’s water security and ensure safe drinking water availability to the U.S. public.

Additionally, my research group seeks to understand and describe the interactions between the environment, microbes, and molecules (usually metals) using mathematical models, metagenomics sequencing, molecular and microbiological techniques, different analytical tools, and engineering.

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