2021 James J. Morgan Environmental Science & Technology Early Career Award Winners Announced - ACS Axial | ACS Publications
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2021 James J. Morgan Environmental Science & Technology Early Career Award Winners Announced

The James J. Morgan Environmental Science & Technology Early Career Award, named after the first Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Science & Technology, aims to recognize those early career researchers who are standing on our shoulders, who are seeing the farthest horizons and leading the fields in new directions through creative, new ideas consistent with Morgan’s early contributions in environmental chemistry.

This year, we received a significant number of nominations for the James J. Morgan Early Career Award from the Americas region. Please join us in congratulating the 2021 James J. Morgan Early Career Award winners:

  • Lee Blaney, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical, Biochemical and Environmental Engineering, University of Maryland Baltimore County
  • Jeremy Guest, Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
  • Lea Hildebrandt-Ruiz, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Katherine Peter, Research Chemist, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Charleston, South Carolina

Learn more about the winners below:

Dr. Lee Blaney

Dr. Blaney joined the University of Maryland Baltimore County as an assistant professor in 2011, after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin in Environmental Engineering. His research focus has been to pursue the link between engineering and health-related issues, and he has an established research portfolio in water/wastewater treatment of contaminants, the environmental fate and toxicity of contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, hormones, and personal care products, and the development of resource recovery technologies from municipal and agricultural waste streams. Specifically, his research has included phosphorus recovery, antibiotic transformation, ozone/peroxide advanced oxidation processes, and photolysis and photodegradation processes. He is considered a leading researcher with a broad vision, innovative research ideas, and an outstanding commitment to developing a sustainable research program that is diverse and focused on grand challenges.

What does this award mean to you?

Being selected as a recipient of the James J. Morgan Early Career Award is one of the greatest honors of my professional career. I’m truly humbled. I would like to thank all of my students, postdoctoral researchers, collaborators, colleagues, and mentors for making this award possible. A special thanks to my nominators, Dr. Lynn Katz (University of Texas at Austin) and Dr. Arup SenGupta (Lehigh University). You inspire me every day.

Of course, James Morgan made incredible contributions to our understanding of aquatic chemistry and served as the first Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Science & Technology. However, I recently learned more about Morgan from one of my mentors, Dr. Desmond Lawler (University of Texas at Austin). Lawler shared a number of stories about Morgan’s kindness and support for students, including Lawler himself, at conferences. In Lawler’s words, “Jim was a class act.” For me, this award is a call to continue striving towards the intellectual, service, and mentoring contributions of the great James J. Morgan.

I would also like to recognize Dr. Jeremy Guest, Dr. Lea Hildebrandt-Ruiz, and Dr. Katherine Peter – I’m proud and excited to share this award with you.

What are you working on now?

Right now, our lab has a number of projects focused on (i) the occurrence, fate, transport, and toxicity of contaminants of emerging concern in natural and engineered systems and (ii) the development of innovative technologies for resource recovery from municipal and agricultural waste.

In the first area, I am excited about our NSF CAREER project, which seeks to advance understanding of contaminants of emerging concern in urban streams. We are working in two Baltimore watersheds, neither of which receives wastewater effluent; however, we have measured antibiotics at high detection frequencies and concentrations and confirmed uptake of synthetic estrogens and sunscreen agents in crayfish. We believe that these contaminants stem from leaking sewers and sanitary sewer overflows. The overall outcomes of this work stress the need to upgrade our wastewater collection infrastructure.

In the second area, we are working to develop Donnan dialysis-based technologies for nutrient recovery from municipal wastewater, source-separated urine, and animal manure. This work was motivated by my very first undergraduate research experience with Dr. Arup SenGupta and Dr. Prakhar Prakash at Lehigh University. SenGupta and Prakash employed Donnan dialysis to effectively recover coagulants from drinking water treatment residuals. We are building on that pioneering work through both fundamental contributions and application-specific innovations to enable a circular nutrient economy.

What advances are you hoping to see in your field in the next decade?

Ultimately, the goal of our research on contaminants of emerging concern and nutrient recovery is to improve water quality and resource management. Within the next decade, I hope to see the field further embrace the circular economy framework in order to ensure water, food, energy, and economic security in the future. Through more direct water reuse (with appropriate technologies), I believe that we can also address the negative outcomes (e.g., antibiotic resistance, endocrine disruption) associated with contaminants of emerging concern in both drinking water and wastewater. Given the high energy costs of ammonia production, our current approach to nitrogen treatment in wastewater could be improved through the adoption of nutrient recovery technologies. The importance of this issue is reinforced for phosphorus, a finite resource that is geospatially limited. While a number of technologies have been developed and evaluated for the treatment of contaminants of emerging concern and recovery of nutrients, I am hoping to see the field make more advances on the broad implementation of these forward-thinking approaches in the next decade.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

Build up the people around you. Being a young investigator is tough, especially this past year, and a supportive community goes a long way. The most gratifying aspects of my work have always been helping students, supporting my colleagues, and connecting with other members of the community. These interactions have helped me to maintain a positive mental attitude, and I’m certain that this mindset has allowed me to do my best work.

Explore articles published by Lee Blaney in ACS Publications journals.

Dr. Jeremy Guest

Dr. Guest became an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 2019 following his position as an assistant professor since 2011 and completing his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering in 2012 at the University of Michigan. His research interests cover sustainable design, sanitation and resource recovery from wastewater, and innovation for technology development. Specifically, research areas include energy and anaerobic membrane bioreactors with full life-cycle assessment, biofuels, microalgae, and the removal of nutrients from wastewater to generate biomass for energy and improving sanitation for developing countries alongside the challenges of technology adoption and local economics. His research style shows an effective and systematic ability to identify the relevance and practical implications of a given research area and address key questions for further forward development.

Explore articles published by Jeremy Guest in ACS Publications journals.

Dr. Lea Hildebrandt-Ruiz

Dr. Hildebrandt-Ruiz joined the University of Texas Austin as an assistant professor in 2012 from a post-doctoral position at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. Since taking up this position, Dr. Hildebrandt-Ruiz has built a world-class, large environmental chamber with extensive gas-phase and aerosol phase analytical equipment, with research, focused on characterizing the role of chlorine radicals in urban and regional atmospheres – a cutting edge area of atmospheric chemistry research. Her research contributions have also included identifying new sources of emissions, e.g. the formation of particulate nitrates from hydraulic fracturing of shale formations, and characterization of indoor air quality and chlorine chemistry as part of the HOMEChem indoor air quality field campaign. Dr. Hildebrandt-Ruiz is currently leading an initiative to investigate the surface chemistry of face masks and exposure to potential byproducts formed on different masks depending on the cleaning products used. Her innovative and ground-breaking research work will be foundational in the evolution of air quality research.

Explore articles published by Lea Hildebrandt-Ruiz in ACS Publications journals.

Dr. Katherine Peter

Dr. Peter is a National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Research Chemist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the United States, having joined the institute in 2019 from her postdoctoral position at the Center for Urban Waters, University of Washington, Tacoma. Her research focus is on the creation of novel applications for high-resolution mass spectrometry in the field of urban water quality, treatment, and management, including toxicant identification, treatment system performance evaluation, and source tracking work in complex environmental systems. Dr. Peters works at the interface of the ecosystem and human health with nontarget, high-resolution mass spectrometry analysis, conducting novel, ground-breaking, and innovative research in these developing areas of urban water quality and associated societal challenges.

Tell us about yourself

I am currently a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. I earned my B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis and my Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa. I did my first postdoc at the University of Washington Tacoma, Center for Urban Waters. Outside of the lab, I enjoy hiking with our dog, quilting, and listening to podcasts.

What does this award mean to you?

I am very honored to be awarded the James J. Morgan Early Career Award. It is really exciting and motivating to be recognized as part of a creative research community that is exploring new ideas to address the challenges facing our environment. I have had the opportunity and privilege to learn from and work with a fantastic group of mentors and fellow researchers, and the award is also a recognition of their support and research excellence.

Describe your current area of research (or areas of interest)

Broadly, I’m an environmental engineer who uses analytical chemistry to understand water quality and the fate of organic contaminants in natural and engineered systems. I am currently working to develop methods that use non-targeted high-resolution mass spectrometry to identify, differentiate, and track sources of contaminants in the environment. I am also interested in working to establish uniform approaches to quantify and communicate the performance and quality of non-targeted analysis methods and data.

What are the major challenges facing Early Career Researchers?

In many ways, the challenges faced by early-career researchers are similar to those of those at more advanced stages of their careers – the need to obtain funding, advance their research in unique ways, build and support diverse teams, maintain work-life balance, and so forth. For early-career researchers, these challenges are often coupled with the need to navigate a series of personal and professional transitions, develop new leadership roles, and establish themselves in the research community. Especially in current times, building strategies and supportive communities to enable early career researchers to effectively manage these demands and excel as scientists, while also maintaining their personal well-being, is crucial.

Explore articles published by Katherine Peter in ACS Publications journals.

Read more about the winners in this editorial in Environmental Science & Technology.

Read about previous winners of this award from 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

The number of outstanding quality nominations this year gave the James J. Morgan award selection committee the welcome opportunity to recognize a number of additional researchers with an Honorable Mention:

  • Joshua Apte, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley
  • Gregory Lefevre, Assistant Professor, University of Iowa
  • Shihong Lin, Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University
  • Haizhou Liu, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  • Daniel McCurry, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California
  • Amy Pickering, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley
  • Francois Perreault, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University
  • Vishal Verma, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
  • Ngai Yin Yip, Assistant Professor, Columbia University

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