Nguyen Wins NSF CAREER Award

Assistant Professor Thanh (Helen) Nguyen of the Environmental Engineering and Science faculty has won a five-year, National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award.  With the goal of making wastewater reuse more cost-effective, especially for developing countries, Nguyen is studying how pathogen mobility and inactivation are influenced by surface interaction between pathogens and wastewater organic matter.  It will be the first systematic study of its kind.

Increasing global demand for water has turned attention on the use of partially-treated wastewater to enhance the supply of fresh water.  Partially-treated wastewater can be used to recharge groundwater and irrigate crops, but its safe use depends on reliable, cost-effective methods for pathogen removal.  Nguyen will study the processes at work in stabilization ponds, which inactivate pathogens through sunlight exposure, and during subsurface filtration, in which wastewater is pumped underground to allow the soil to filter out pathogens.

Nguyen’s research is focusing on Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts, waterborne pathogens that causes severe diarrhea in people and animals.  The results and experimental techniques she develops through this research will be applicable to a range of pathogens.

For this interdisciplinary project, Nguyen and her research group is collaborating with researchers in college of Veterinary Medicine at University of Illinois and  King Abdula university of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.

Educational outreach activities related to Nguyen’s research include her involvement with an ongoing Engineers Without Borders project to bring safe drinking water to a village in Guatemala using iron-amended biosand filters for household use.  She is also active in a number of diversity and recruitment activities organized by the University, such as Project Children for Higher Education, a program that teaches local middle school students from low-income families about environmental engineering and encourages them to pursue a college education. 

Nguyen also will develop a new CEE course, Environmental Biointerface, which will teach students how to apply knowledge and sophisticated techniques of interface science and molecular microbiology to solve complex environmental problems, such as biofouling in membrane systems and waterborne pathogen removal for water reclamation and treatment.

CAREER grants are the NSF’s most prestigious form of support for junior faculty who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”