2022 James J. Morgan Environmental Science & Technology Early Career Award Winners Announced - ACS Axial | ACS Publications
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2022 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, recognizes those early career researchers who are standing on our shoulders. These are the researchers who are seeing the farthest horizons and leading the fields in new directions through creative, new ideas consistent with Morgan’s early contributions to environmental chemistry.

This year, we received a significant number of nominations for the James J. Morgan Early Career Award from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Please join us in congratulating the 2022 James J. Morgan Early Career Award winners:

  • Gang Liu, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
  • Denise M. Mitrano, ETH Zürich, Switzerland
  • Peng Zhang, University of Birmingham, U.K.
  • Matthieu Riva, I’IRCELYON, France

Learn more about the winners, and what this means to them below.

Professor Gang Liu, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark

Tell us about yourself.

I am a Professor of Industrial Ecology at the University of Southern Denmark. I am Chinese but have been living and working in the Nordic circle since 2008, first in Norway and then in Denmark. With this background and combining the significant environmental challenges in China and the sustainability-oriented mindset embedded in the Scandinavian culture, research, and education, it is a dream job to be a professor on environmental sustainability at a research university.

What does this award mean to you?

It is my great honor to receive this James J. Morgan Early Career Award. It means a lot to me to be acknowledged by the most reputed journal in our field. I can still remember the cheerful moments during my Ph.D. when my work got published in Environmental Science & Technology and later awarded runner-up Best Paper. In the past years, my research group has always put it as our primary target journal. Furthermore, I feel particularly grateful to receive this award named after James J. Morgan, who is the founding Editor-in-Chief of this journal and a great scientist who had inspired so many researchers (including me) to be creative and try new pathways. Last but not least, this award gives me an opportunity to acknowledge my mentors, colleagues, and students who have helped me along the way.

What are you working on now?

My main field is industry ecology, which is an emerging multidisciplinary field that studies materials and energy stocks and flows through industrial systems and is often recognized as the science for circular economy and sustainability. In short, I have been developing and applying different systems approaches for addressing complex environmental problems such as climate change, resource and waste management, and urban sustainability and informing the societal circular, low carbon, and just transition. Empirical case studies in recent years include sustainable metal cycles, agrifood chains, urban systems, and low-carbon technologies.

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

There are many technological advances that I hope to see in my field in the next decade, including further methodology integration from various disciplines and more automated data generation (e.g., using big data) and analysis facing urgent and increasing sustainability challenges. However, most often, we already have the technologies, solutions, and understanding on addressing these challenges, be it climate or resource-related. Therefore, I would particularly like to see how such knowledge can be implemented in the real world and used to inform governmental and industry policy and actions in the next years.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

As young investigators, you should always aim high and dream big. You may sometimes feel lonely when walking on the forest trails (than on the crowded highways), but as James J. Morgan demonstrated, new pathways and ideas can lead to new directions that are necessary for addressing our complex environmental problems. As our global challenges get increasingly intertwined, I think systemic and multidisciplinary efforts are also increasingly needed. So be prepared to get out of the box and be open to theories, methods, and data from other disciplines for common sustainability purposes.

Where do you hope to see your career 10 years from now?

2030 is a year that many of our resource, climate, and sustainability-related targets are benchmarked, including the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. So, I hope in 10 years, together with other researchers working on sustainable systems, we can say our research has made an impact in this successful journey.

View articles published by Professor Gang Liu.

Professor Denise M. Mitrano, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Tell us about yourself.

As an environmental analytical chemist, my research focuses on the distribution and impacts of anthropogenic materials in technical and environmental systems. I am particularly interested in developing analytical tools to systematically understand the mechanisms and processes driving the fate, transport, and biological interactions of particles, such as engineered nanomaterials and nano- and microplastics. In this context, my research group uses these results to assess the risks of anthropogenic materials across various ecosystems and scales. I have an interest in a “safer by design” approach for both nanomaterials and plastics, which is exemplified by working on the boundaries of environmental science, materials science, and policy to promote sustainability and environmental health and safety of new materials.

The thing I like most about being an analytical chemist is that other researchers are able to use our methods and take them even further to better investigate their own research objectives. In a way, this amplifies my contributions across the field of environmental sciences to provide others with the tools to answer their most interesting questions, in addition to carrying out our own research objectives. Being an expert in nanometrology has allowed me to collaborate across many different research fields with colleagues whose expertise is very different than mine, and so I’m constantly able to learn about new areas of science.

What does this award mean to you?

It is both exciting and humbling for my work to be recognized by receiving this years’ James J. Morgan Early Career Award and to have my name be listed amongst the other excellent up-and-coming researchers in the field of environmental sciences. I am very passionate about the work that we do in my lab but also inspired by the amazing students who work alongside me and thankful for my mentors and colleagues who have helped shape my career and outlook to date.

What are you working on now?

I have been very interested in applying the skills and process understanding I gained in studying engineered nanomaterials to different particulate materials of emerging concern, including plastics.  However, analytically, measuring plastics can be very different and more challenging than inorganic (nano)particles. Therefore, I developed a new approach to synthesize nano- and microplastics doped with a trace metal to more easily and quickly quantify them in complex matrices using techniques that are more standardized for metals analysis, including ICP-MS and single-particle ICP-MS.  By using the metal as a proxy for the plastics, we can spike them into a variety of laboratory and pilot-scale facilities, which has allowed us to investigate the fate and transport of plastics in environmental systems (waterways, porous media), wastewater, and drinking water treatment plants and to study biological uptake and interactions of nano- and microplastics. This approach has opened up a completely new avenue for those studying plastic pollution and has provided many new opportunities for collaboration with other research groups.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

Be brave and think outside the box! As a young scientist, you have the opportunity to focus on a new field and develop innovative methods that are not yet established. This may entail risks, but in the best-case scenario, you can become a pioneer in your own field.

Perhaps the two things which have helped my professional success the most are to keep an open mind and to ask many questions. This has opened the door for a lot of new ideas and collaborations which wouldn’t have come about if I were solely focused on my day-to-day work. Naturally, learning to balance the demands of organizing multiple projects on different topical subjects simultaneously took time, but in the end, I feel that I am gaining an increasingly holistic view of my field, which helps me to better identify key research gaps and develop better research objectives.

Where do you hope to see your career 10 years from now?

On a day-to-day basis, to me, science, especially analytical method development, is about problem-solving and the excitement when you have finally accomplished a difficult puzzle (sometimes after much trial and error!). But the implications of our work go beyond the laboratory. The natural environment is experiencing ever-increasing pressures from anthropogenic stressors. Understanding how human activities influence physical, chemical, and biological cycles is a central component of modern geosciences, and I find it very rewarding to contribute knowledge that can lead towards the protection of our waterways and soils. In the future, I hope to continue to bridge academic science with other stakeholders from policy, industry, and the public to make scientifically informed decisions about the materials we use and how this impacts the natural environment.

View articles published by Professor Denise M. Mitrano.

Dr. Matthieu Riva, Institut de Recherches sur la Catalyse et l'Environnement de Lyon (I'IRCELYON), France

Dr. Matthieu Riva received his doctoral degree from the University of Bordeaux in 2013. He obtained a postdoctoral fellowship from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation to work with Professor Jason Surratt at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  In 2016, he joined Professor Mikael Ehn’s group at the University of Helsinki, Finland. After these postdoctoral research positions, in 2018, he joined the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) as a senior researcher at the Institute of Research on Catalysis and Environment at Lyon, France. His research interests include the chemical characterization of organic aerosol particles and low volatile material using advanced mass spectrometric techniques.

What does this award mean to you?

The James J. Morgan Environmental Science & Technology Early Career Award aims to recognize the early career researchers who are initiating and creating new ideas consistent with Morgan’s contributions in environmental chemistry. As a result, I am greatly honored to be awarded the James J. Morgan Early Career Award and to be associated with such an outstanding pioneer who inspired and inspires many (young) scientists. This award is also the recognition of the support and research excellence of my mentors, students, postdoctoral researchers, collaborators, and colleagues. So, I would like to thank all of them for inspiring me.

What are you working on now?

I am currently pursuing the analytical developments initiated in the last two years and using this newly developed technology to better characterize the chemical processes governing the formation and growth of newly formed particles.

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

The main advances that I would hope in my chosen research area would be to direct research efforts toward studying the impacts of Global Warming on the global ecosystem in link with atmospheric chemistry. For example, upon environmental stress or the development of pathogen/parasite-induced diseases, living ecosystems emit a wide variety of molecules as a defense mechanism or for signaling. As a result, the emission profile of volatile organic compounds of an impacted ecosystem can greatly change and will ultimately influence ozone levels and particle formation on both regional and global scales.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

I think curiosity and persistence are fundamental aspects of research. Being able to conduct research with passion while pursuing and trying to involve something different in the research would make the research experience more interesting. I would emphasize to the researchers that pursuing new ideas or concepts is always associated with the risk of failure, but from every experience, we learn something.

View articles published by Dr. Matthieu Riva.

Dr. Peng Zhang, University of Birmingham, U.K.

Dr. Zhang obtained his Ph.D. in Bioinorganic Chemistry from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2013. He joined the University of Birmingham as a senior research fellow in 2018, following his position as an associate professor at the Institute of High Energy Physics (CAS) since 2015. His research interests span nanosafety, environmental toxicology, nanomaterials application in agriculture, and environmental remediation.

His specific research areas include:

  • developing advanced techniques (e.g., stable and radioactive isotope labeling, chemical labeling, etc.) to enhance the sensitivity for tracing the fate of nanomaterials in the environment and biota.
  • study transport and fate of nanomaterials in the human body and the link with their human safety.
  • explore nano-enabled technology to improve plant growth, increase use efficiency of agrochemicals, and reduce agriculture derived environmental pollution.

He is considered a leading researcher with a broad vision and innovative ideas in developing solutions for sustainable nanotechnology and nano-enabled agriculture.

Tell us about yourself.

I am fascinated by science and like to stay in the lab. Outside of the lab, I like basketball, movies, travel, and playing with my little daughter.

What does this award mean to you?

It’s a great honor to be selected as a recipient of the James J. Morgan Early Career Award. The award recognizes me as part of the wonderful and creative scientific community. It is a big motivation for me to keep going on the path of science.

What are you working on now?

The central objective of my research is to find sustainable solutions for the environment. A key focus is to find nanotechnology-based solutions to enable sustainable agriculture. The global agriculture and food security sector is facing a wide range of challenges, such as low crop yields, declining soil health and fertility, shrinking arable land, and low use efficiency of agrochemicals, mainly due to excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides. Using nanotechnology, we may increase the crop yield whilst reducing the agriculture-derived environmental contaminations, and we will have more chances to win the battle against food security.

Another work I am doing now is nanosafety, a continuation of my past research. Ensuring the safety of nanotechnology is an important prerequisite for its application in other areas, including agriculture. Specifically, we are evaluating the behavior and toxicology using a variety of models such as cell lines, higher plants, and animals such as Daphnia mangaand earthworm.

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

The ultimate goal of our research is to ensure the sustainability of society. What my research can contribute is to help to achieve one of the UN 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), i.e., zero hunger. More specifically, the goal is to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. In the next decade, I hope to see more advances in this field to ensure we achieve this goal as time won’t wait for us. I believe more nano-enabled sustainable solutions can be developed, but I hope more of these solutions can be tested in the real world and put into realistic applications.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

Keep positive and patient. Failure is common on the path of science. The best solution is to keep a positive mindset and be patiently waiting and finding solutions. Time management is also important, so make sure you find a good time system to balance work and family.

View articles published by Dr. Peng Zhang.

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