2023 James J. Morgan Environmental Science & Technology Early Career Award Winners Announced - ACS Axial | ACS Publications
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2023 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 Asia and the Pacific region. Please join us in congratulating the 2023 James J. Morgan Early Career Award winners:

  • Xiaoguang Duan (University of Adelaide, Australia)
  • Zimeng Wang (Fudan University, China)
  • Jiang Xu (Zhejiang University, China)
  • Tong Zhang (Nankai University, China)

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

Xiaoguang Duan (University of Adelaide, Australia)

Xiaoguang Duan Headshot

Tell us about yourself.

I have been an active researcher in environmental chemistry, and I am currently a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide, Australia.  My research interests focus on functional materials and nanotechnologies to address environmental challenges, particularly in water contamination. I have been seeking green and effective techniques to rapidly purify the persistent and emerging micropollutants in aquatic systems using advanced oxidation technology, and to secure clean and safety drinking water for industrial production and our daily life.

My group has some original and very interesting studies. For example, we reported the very first studies on nanocarbons such as graphene and carbon nanotubes to replace metal-based catalysts for persulfates activation, which address the limited activity of metal catalysts and the long-existing problems of secondary contamination. Another milestone in my research is the discovery of non-radical oxidation pathway in persulfate chemistry which has a mild oxidation capacity and thus is high selective to the electron-rich pollutants in complicated wastewater matrixes. These new findings will bridge the knowledge gap of fundamentals to addressing the current water challenges and provide advanced and sustainable technologies for environmental remediation.

What does this award mean to you?

I am very honoured and humbled to receive the James J. Morgan Award as Environmental Science & Technology / Environmental Science & Technology Letters are the best journals in my research field, and fortunately, I have published a few of my best works in the journal. I still remember that I felt so happy when I received the notification of 2020 Environmental Science & Technology Best Paper Award (top paper) in Environmental Technology from the Editor-in-Chief, and that I am so proud that my work attracted attention from the editorial board and my peers. Without doubt, the James J. Morgan Award is a great acknowledge to the originality and innovation of my research, particularly in exploring new and green remediation systems and the associated mechanism studies. The award will inspire me to continue to explore the unknowns in environmental sciences and to develop advanced purification technologies to protect our environment and blue planet.

What are you working on now?

Previously, we conducted many fundamental studies to reveal the features and origins of carbocatalysis in persulfate-based advanced oxidation processes. On this basis, my group is now working on mass-scale manufacturing low-cost and sustainable porous materials that are fabricated from biomass with the on-demand chemistry to fulfil different purification tasks.  Additionally, my students are extending the non-radical oxidation system to new applications such as polymerisation, water disinfection, chemical synthesis, and microplastic degradation. Of particular interest, we are using the green oxidation system for converting micropollutants (such as phenolics) in water to their corresponding polymers (polyphenols), instead of complete mineralisation. Such a process not only selectively transforms the aqueous pollutants into value-added solid polymers for easy separation, but also significantly reduces chemical inputs.

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

Wastewater treatment plants are normally energy and chemical intensive units, which also produce a large volume of carbon dioxide. I think one of the advances in water purification is to reduce the carbon emission and chemical consumption, by using green and sustainable remediation technologies. Nanomaterials possess high intrinsic activity due to the well-defined structure/chemistry, which can be integrated with the current systems (e.g., membranes) to develop next-generation purification nanotechnology. The rapid and vibrant development of materials sciences and catalysis can provide a wide spectrum of candidates and reduce the cost. In addition, for practical application of the new remediation system, one should consider the life circle assessment, system optimisation, and carbon footprint, realising both economic and environmental sustainability.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

Research is no easy work, and curiosity is always the best guide and strongest driving force. During PhD and postdoc training, early career researchers (ECRs), like me, normally already have a good knowledge base and background of the progresses and challenges in the research fields. Finding something new, interesting but challenging, may be a pathway to independence. The role transition from a lab researcher to a group leader is not easy. Even though we, sometimes, have to be heavily engaged in teaching, admin and other commitments, keeping a large volume of reading of up-to-date references in the fields and an effective and timely conversation/discussion with students is a good way to achieve our academic goal. The best part of the process is, I constantly learn from my students and postdocs for new ideas and phenomenon in research, inspiring me to continue my journey to getting new knowledge and exploring revolutionary technology for the future.

View Articles Published by Xiaoguang Duan

Zimeng Wang (Fudan University, China)

Zimeng Wang Headshot

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in southwest China and came to Shanghai for the first time when I started at Fudan University during its 100th anniversary. I obtained my PhD at Washington University in 2013 (with Dan Giammar), postdoc experience at Stanford (2014-2016, with Bill Mitch). Before I returned to my B.S. alma mater, I was an assistant professor at Louisiana State University.

What does this award mean to you?

Jim Morgan is a pioneer in aquatic chemistry with profound contributions that made a cornerstone of environmental science and engineering. An early career award named after Jim Morgan is an exceptionally inspiring honor for the young generation. I am extremely humbled to receive this award, as I know they are many other excellent peers who are more deserving. This award is a tremendous encouragement for me.

What are you working on now?

I was trained as an aquatic chemist, who are naturally interested in chemical reactions that control contaminant and nutrient behaviors at mineral-water interfaces, especially the redox processes. After returning to China, I expanded my research in soil biogeochemistry and started to tackle remediation of contaminated sites. I am particularly interested in those intermediate valences, species and microstructures that play elusive but critical roles in natural and engineered aquatic systems. Deciphering those chemical properties with quantitative models is challenging but opens opportunities to new frontiers.

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

I foresee that the community of aquatic chemists will continue to unveil those elusive elemental cycles by better understanding those metastable and intermediate species, which include not only inorganic elements, but also organic compounds. The major advances will emerge, I think, at the interdisciplinary areas, between aquatic chemistry and other fast-growing fields, such as (geo)microbiology, climate change, and environmental health.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

A particular trait of Jim’s success is his dedicated service to the community, through Environmental Science & Technology as the founding editor, the academic association and societies, as well as his university services. Jim founded Environmental Science & Technology when he was an assistant professor at Caltech, at an age of 34. I may not be in right place to give young investigators advice about research, but if I could share Jim’s example, it would be that it is never too early to take on service roles in the academic community. It will be appreciated and carry you far in your path.

View articles published by Zimeng Wang

Jiang Xu (Zhejiang University, China)

Jiang Xu Headshot

Tell us about yourself.

I received a BSc and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Zhejiang University, and I joined Zhejiang University as a professor (tenure-track) in 2021 after a 3.5-year postdoctoral position in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. I am interested in a broad area of environmental chemistry and environmental nanotechnology.

What does this award mean to you?

It is an exciting and memorable moment to receive the 2023 James J. Morgan Early Career Award. I appreciate my mentors who trained me and shaped my scientific thinking, and many thanks to my amazing students/postdocs/collaborators/colleagues for their support and inspiration. This prestigious prize in the field of environmental science and technology will be a great motivation for our group to initiate new ideas, create new pathways, and develop new solutions for efficient and sustainable environmental nanotechnology.

What are you working on now?

We’re currently pursuing the rational design of redox materials for environmental remediation, focusing on mechanisms and a detailed understanding of material properties and their relationship with performance. We’re proposing some rational design strategies after understanding how the materials work, and to address some challenging and important problems in soil and groundwater remediation. For example, we are developing new versions of nanoscale zerovalent iron (e.g., sulfidized and lattice-doped materials) for efficient and selective reductions of contaminants and designing single atom catalysts with precise coordination to selectively produce reactive oxygen species for the oxidation of contaminants.

Besides the materials side, we’re also understanding the structure-property-reactivity relationships of contaminants, which is expected to further push forward the ration design of nanomaterials for efficient remediation.

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

Soil and groundwater are vital resources for many people in their daily lives, but they are susceptible to contamination. Environmental nanotechnology provides a solution to their in-situ remediation, and developing reactive nanomaterials is valuable for many cases. However, the high reactivity of nanomaterials is a double-edged sword if they do not discriminate, i.e., reacting with water and other components rather than the target contaminant. In the next decade, I hope to see more advances in the development of reactive but also highly selective nanomaterials for in-situ soil and groundwater remediation, followed by the applications of these materials in the real world.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

Ask the right and important questions, keep curiosity and patience, and always try to be better. Understand how materials work rather than just test new materials. Make valuable contributions to the field rather than just additions. Work smarter rather than harder.

View articles published by Jiang Xu

Tong Zhang (Nankai University, China)

Tong Zhang Headshot

Tell us about yourself.

I earned my B.S. and M.S. in Environmental Engineering at Tsinghua University and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering at Duke University. I received most of my postdoc training at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I am currently on the faculty of the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Nankai University. My research interests span from biogeochemistry to environmental remediation, with the main focus on the fate, transport and transformation of trace metals and mineral nanoparticles. Outside of the lab and office, I spend most of my time doing puzzles with the kids.

What does this award mean to you?

This is one of the greatest honors and encouragements of my professional life. It is incredibly exciting and humbling for me to be associated with Dr. James J. Morgan, who’s such an outstanding pioneer and inspires countless researchers. I really appreciate all the support from my mentors, students, collaborators and colleagues, and would love to share this prestigious award with them. I am super passionate about what we do and will continue exploring new paths to address the grand environmental challenges.

What are you working on now?

We are now working on elucidating and modulating the key processes controlling mineral surface reactivities to better inform risk assessments and remedial strategies for environmental contamination. At present, we have a number of exciting research projects going on, utilizing multi-disciplinary approaches, such as theoretical chemistry, minerology, molecular biology and so forth. On the one hand, we are investigating the occurrence and the unique environmental behavior and impact of nanoparticulate heavy metals. We are particularly interested in understanding the geochemical and microbiological constraints on the methylation of mercury by microorganisms, a critical process dictating the bioaccumulation and toxicity of mercury in the environment. On the other hand, we are developing advanced materials and nanotechnology-enabled in situ remediation strategies to address sediment, soil and groundwater contamination with minimal ecological disturbance and carbon footprint.

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

In the next decade, I’m hoping to see full-scale applications of the scientific knowledge and technology that we currently develop in the lab to solve real-world problems. This calls for broad engagement and joint efforts of all stakeholders, including academia, industry, policy makers and the public.

Can you share some advice for other young investigators?

Perhaps there are a few things which have helped me along the way. I believe that the only way to do great work is to love what you do, so don’t settle until you find your true passion. However challenging it is, when we dream big, all the problems become small. It is always good to have plans, yet allow yourself to fall behind the schedule here and there until you find your own rhythm. Don’t spend all the time chasing deadlines and remember to reserve time for the important things in your life.

View articles published by Tong Zhang

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