January 2009, Vol. 21, No.1

Research Notes

Work on Improving Biofilms Wins 2008 Paul L. Busch Award

 The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF; Alexandria, Va.) Endowment for Innovation in Applied Water Quality Research has presented Andrew Schuler with its 2008 Paul L. Busch Award.

The $100,000 annual award honors Schuler’s work on improving the removal of trace organic compounds in wastewater and will support his efforts to harness recent advancements in materials sciences to improve the performance of biofilms, according to a WERF press release.

Schuler and a team of researchers are working to alter the chemical and physical characteristics of surfaces to manipulate biofilm composition and structure with the goal of developing biofilms that will improve the removal of trace organic compounds during wastewater treatment.

“Biofilm systems are becoming increasingly popular in wastewater treatment, yet we are just beginning to understand how surface characteristics influence biofilm structure and behavior,” Schuler said. “Recent advances in the materials sciences are laying the groundwork for a new research area with the goal of engineering biofilms for specific functions.”

Schuler and his team will use self-assembled monolayers to design surfaces to study enrichment of beneficial microorganisms and production of biofilms with desirable adsorption characteristics, according to the press release. New technologies to construct physical and chemical features on attachment media at the micrometer and nanometer scales will facilitate Schuler’s fundamental research in this area.

If Schuler’s work is successful, it will give system designers the information needed to remove trace organics at much greater rates than currently possible in conventional systems, said WERF Executive Director Glenn Reinhardt. “This low-cost opportunity is potentially a landmark discovery offering great environmental benefit,” he added.

Schuler is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque). His research has focused on biological processes in wastewater treatment, including process modeling, enhanced biological phosphorus removal, activated sludge sedimentation, and biofilms, according to the press release.

WERF’s Endowment for Applied Quality Research has recognized and supported innovative research with practical benefits for wastewater treatment and environmental protection for the past 8 years. WERF presented this year’s award on Oct. 21 at WEFTEC®.08 in Chicago.

U.S. EPA, National Science Foundation Establish Nanotechnology Centers

The U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have awarded $38 million to establish two Centers for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINs). The centers will conduct research on the possible environmental, health, and safety impacts of nanomaterials, according to an EPA press release.

The CEINs will study how nanomaterials interact with the environment and human health in an effort to achieve better risk assessment and mitigation strategies to be used in the commercial development of nanotechnology. Each center will work as a network connected to multiple research organizations, industry, and government agencies and will emphasize interdisciplinary research and education.

One CEIN will be led by the University of California at Los Angeles and housed at the California NanoSystems Institute on campus. This CEIN will develop a scientific model to consider which nanomaterials are most likely to come into contact with the environment, which animals and plants can act as early alerts of environmental changes, and what methods can screen chemicals quickly.

The other CEIN will be led by Duke University (Durham, N.C.), where researchers plan to study the potential environmental and biological effects on a range of nanomaterials using an outdoor laboratory approach. During the next year, the research team will develop 32 controlled and monitored ecosystems known as “mesocosms” in Durham’s Duke Forest. These living laboratories provide areas where researchers can study the effects that the added nanoparticles have on plants, fish, bacteria, and other elements.

For more information, see www.epa.gov/ncer/08CEIN.