Water Challenges


Unsustainable practices have affected the quality and availability of water resources around the world with implications to human health, food and energy security, and economic development.  These issues are most pronounced in developing countries and regions where an estimated 650 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and 1 in 3 people lack access to a toilet, but challenges remain in wealthier nations where aging infrastructure, urban growth, emerging contaminants, and climate change are straining the capabilities of wastewater treatment systems to provide safe drinking water and unpolluted lakes and rivers. Demands on freshwater resources for agriculture, energy production, and industrial use are expected to increase and these pressures will lead to increasingly difficult trade-offs that water resource managers and other decision makers will need to address.

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Purdue’s Approach

Purdue’s water community—nearly 100 academic faculty, researchers, and students—is working to address the grand challenge of protecting the future of our water resources. Broad areas of research include water use; water pollution; aquatic ecosystems; human dimensions; and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

The mission of the Water Community Signature Research Area is to foster connections across campus and around the world to facilitate interdisciplinary research that helps communities solve their water challenges. The scope of the Water Community is broad, bringing together about 75 researchers from multiple colleges including the colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Education. Within the community, there are several sub-areas within the water community: Agricultural Water Management; Human Dimensions of Water; Urban Water Systems; Great Lakes Water; Ecological Restoration and Water and Energy.


Managing Water for Increased Resiliency of Drained Agricultural Landscapes

PI: Jane Frankenberger
Funding: USDA

This project is a collaborative effort aimed at addressing important land management questions through the assessment and development of new agricultural drainage technologies. Drainage is an essential component of the landscape to provide suitable growing conditions for the crops that feed and support both local and global communities. This infrastructure also creates a pathway for environmental losses to occur. With anticipated changes in seasonal precipitation patterns, water security for growing crops as well as practices to minimize offsite environmental impacts are of growing interest to landowners and the public. The vision for this project is that the process of designing and implementing agricultural drainage will be transformed so that storing water in the landscape will be considered for every drainage system as a foundation for resilient and productive agricultural systems.

Can there ever be enough? Analysis of the adoption, penetration and effectiveness of urban stormwater management practices

PI: Laura Bowling
Funding: U.S. Geological Survey

Stormwater conservation practices, such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and permeable pavement, can effectively decrease stormwater run-off and improve water quality. While these urban conservation practices have great potential, unfortunately, their use is generally lower than the use of similar agricultural practices to reduce run-off and improve water quality. In this project, the research team is evaluating the watershed-scale effectiveness of best management practice (BMP) implementation in the Greater Lafayette area in partnership with the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation community organization and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for watershed management planning and monitoring. The long-term goal of this project is to improve water quality and document water quality improvements in urban streams through the use of urban stormwater BMPs. 

USDA-NIFA Water Synthesis

PI: Linda Prokopy
Funding: USDA

This project is evaluating the NIFA Water Portfolio, a collection of projects funded by competitive and capacity NIFA grant funds from 2000-2013 that address water resource issues (quality and quantity). Ultimately, the results of this project will help recommend strategies for NIFA program leaders to identify future project focus areas, as well as attributes of successful projects that NIFA might consider when determine which projects fund in the future.

Microbial Source Tracking for Gunpowder Creek Watershed in Kentucky

PI: George Zhou
Funding: Northern Kentucky and Boone County Conservation District

Fecal pollution poses a health risk to humans via pathogens and Microbial source tracking (MST) has been developed during the last two decades to monitor fecal pollution. As it is unrealistic to monitor all pathogens in surface waters, cultivable fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), such as E. coli, have been traditionally used to evaluate fecal pollution. However, FIB are not always correlated well with pathogens, and cultivable microorganisms typical only represent less than 1% of microorganisms in the total microbial community, which can lead to inaccurate estimations of fecal pollution of surface waters. This project uses alternative methods, molecular culture-independent and library-independent methods such as real-time PCR, to trace host-specific gene markers in humans and animals in total microbial community, and better identify the origin of potential fecal pollution for KY watersheds to improve environmental quality and protect public health.

Inexpensive drinking water treatment technology for small rural communities

PI: Chad Jafvert
Funding: Purdue

In many rural villages around the globe, the source of drinking water is a surface stream or lake, or water that has been collected from rainfall on roofs.  This water is susceptible to particle-born contaminants and pathogens and poses a significant health risk if not treated properly. Currently, many people boil the water to make it free of pathogens, yet the water quality remains poor.  The Purdue research team (Jafvert and John Howarter) have been developing a series of simple, cost-effective technologies that can be used in the home, or in rural schools to treat the water to U.S. EPA drinking water standards.  One such technology is the redesign of simple slow sand filters (SSF) that are easy to transport and install.  The re-engineered SSF system consists of inexpensive plastic 5 gallon buckets or 55 gallon drums, sieved sand, plastic tubing and a specialized porous plate all designed for use in rural communities with limited financial resources.  The slow sand (or bio-sand) filters are a microbiological process that improve water quality by microbial oxidation of dissolved and colloidal organic material, reducing the turbidity of the water to drinking water standards.  Other technologies that are being designed and deployed include hand pumps for water delivery from and stream to the school, automatic chlorinators, and an inexpensive chlorine monitoring system.  Slow sand filters have been installed in schools and homes in western China, Tanzania, Kenya, Colombia, and India. Video of the project

Affiliated Faculty

Chip Blatchley

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Ernest Blatchley is a professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering. He conducts research in the general area of physico/chemical processes of environmental engineering, with emphasis on disinfection and advanced oxidation processes. His group has made important contributions to the development of fundamental photochemical reactor theory, including computational and experiment-based methods for simulation and quantification of photochemical reactor performance. His work has addressed swimming pool chemistry, ballast water treatment, targeted oxidation of micropollutants, and appropriate technologies for water treatment in developing countries. The focal point of the latter has been the development of continuous-flow solar disinfection processes. The Blatchley group has recently initiated work to examine opportunities for resource recovery from municipal wastewaters, including water, nutrients, and thermal energy. Blatchley earned his Ph.D. in Civil (Environmental) Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Laura Bowling


Laura Bowling serves as a co-convener of the Water Challenges Signature Area at C4E. A Professor in Agronomy, she also serves as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources and Environmental Science interdisciplinary undergraduate program, and has a courtesy appointment in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Bowling serves a member of the Center’s Leadership Committee as well as being on the Executive Committee of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. She also represents Purdue to the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science and the University Council on Water Resources. Her research interests include quantifying the hydrologic and water quality impacts of agricultural drainage practices, the investigation of edge-of-field and watershed-scale conversation measures to mitigate impacts, and the evaluation of water resources sustainability, with emphasis on agricultural water use. She is currently leading the Nexus Arequipa Institute’s project, A Framework for Sustainable Water Management in the Arequipa Region. Bowling enjoys observing water in natural environments, whether from kayak, innertube, snowmobile or paddle board.

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Sylvie Brouder


Sylvie Brouder is the Wickersham Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Research, professor of agronomy in the Department of Agronomy and director of the Water Quality Field Station, a Purdue core facility. Her research focuses on field-to-landscape scale nutrient cycling and losses in agriculture and on evaluation of agroecosystem viability and sustainability, examination of rooting dynamics, the root-soil interface and root/shoot ecophysiology; and multivariate statistical and simulation modeling approaches to analysis of environmental data. Brouder received her Ph. D. in ecology from the Ecology Graduate Group at the University of California, Davis.

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Paul Brown

Forestry and Natural Resources

Paul Brown is a professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and a member of the Interdepartmental Nutrition Program. His research emphasis has been aquaculture and aquatic animal nutrition and has recently expanded into organic aquaculture, aquaponics and nutrigenomics. His nutrigenomics research is in nutrient signaling (vitamins A and D and carotenoids) and regulation of epigenetic patterns. It has broad applications, ranging from contemporary ecological theory to human medicine. Brown earned his Ph.D. at Texas A&M University.

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Keith Cherkauer

Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Keith Cherkauer is an associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering. His research focuses on the integration of field-based observations, remote sensing products and hydrology models to address questions and concerns related to environmental change and to further our understanding of land-atmosphere interactions and the hydrologic cycle. He has studied the hydrologic significance of seasonal soil frost in North America; monitoring of snow cover, soil moisture, temperature and seasonal freeze-thaw processes; quantification of land use and climate change impacts on water availability and the movement of water through the environment; assessment of climate change impacts on crop yields and biomass production; and the applicability of manned and unmanned aircraft- and satellite-based remote sensing of water quality in Midwestern rivers and river plumes in the Great Lakes. Cherkauer received a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Washington, Seattle.

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Timothy Filley

Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Agronomy

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Jane Frankenberger

Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Jane Frankenberger is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering and of environmental and ecological engineering. Her research focuses on quantifying the effectiveness of conservation practices in drained agricultural watersheds, through field studies of innovative drainage practices and simulation modeling at the field and watershed scales. She also leads Extension programs on strategies to reduce nutrient loss from drained lands, watershed management and assessment, and drinking water testing and treatment. Frankenberger founded the Indiana Watershed Leadership Program, which strengthens the capacity of local watershed coordinators and community groups to improve watershed management. She has been a visiting scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and served as science advisor for water quality for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2012. She teaches a graduate-level course on spatial analysis, Geographic Information Systems Applications. Frankenberger’s Ph.D. is from Cornell University. Prior to that she spent eight years working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Senegal.

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Jennifer Freeman

Health Sciences

Jennifer Freeman is an associate professor of toxicology in the School of Health Sciences. Freeman’s research interests are in molecular and environmental toxicology, cytogenetics, genomics and epigenomics. Current research efforts in the Freeman laboratory are defining the underlying genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of developmental exposure to environmental chemicals, including pesticides and metals, with a focus on drinking water contaminants. These projects are defining the immediate adverse outcomes of developmental exposure, the lasting impacts of developmental exposure throughout the lifespan and the analysis of subsequent generations linking genetic, epigenetic and phenotypic assessments. These studies are investigating a developmental origin of adult disease pathogenesis and transgenerational consequences with a specific focus on cancer, reproductive dysfunction and neurological disease. The goal of this work is to understand the role of exposure to the environmental stressors in these adverse health outcomes. All projects are currently utilizing the zebrafish vertebrate model system as a tool to investigate toxicity. Freeman received her Ph.D. in environmental toxicology and molecular cytogenetics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

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Marty Frisbee

Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Agronomy

Marty Frisbee is an assistant professor of hydrogeology and applied geology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. His research focuses on groundwater/surface water interactions with an emphasis on quantifying the role of deep groundwater on the generation, geochemical evolution and residence times of surface water. The ultimate goal of this research is to quantify the role of groundwater in the watershed response to the effects of perturbations such as climate change and land-use change. His ongoing research activities include quantifying the role of geologic structure and stratigraphy on groundwater/ surface water interactions and interbasin groundwater flow in New Mexico; the ecohydrology of spring systems; the geomorphological development of alluvial groundwater systems in large, ephemeral watersheds in Arizona; and submarine groundwater discharge from barrier islands in Georgia. Frisbee earned his Ph.D. in hydrology from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

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Reuben Goforth

Forestry and Natural Resources

Reuben Goforth is an associate professor of aquatic ecology in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. His research examines stream biological community responses to land use change and management in agricultural landscapes; the ecology, life history and control of invasive fish; and the relative roles of varied trophic groups in mediating energy flow and community structure in streams. Goforth received his Ph.D. in natural resources from Cornell University. He then served for nine years as the aquatic ecology program leader for the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, a program within Michigan State University Extension.

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G.S. S Govindaraju

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Rao S. Govindaraju is the Bowen Engineering Head and the Christopher B. and Susan S. Burke Professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering. His primary areas of research include surface and subsurface hydrology, contaminant transport, watershed hydrology and climatic influences. He is interested in developing algorithms for analyzing and learning from hydrologic data, and specializes in problems dealing with uncertainty and spatial variability. He earned his Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of California, Davis.

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Tomas Höök

Forestry and Natural Resources

Tomas H??k is an associate professor of fisheries biology in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and the associate director of research for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Program. His research group studies aquatic processes at the interface between applied and basic ecology. Specifically, their research focuses on fish populations and communities in the Laurentian Great Lakes, but also addresses lower trophic level organisms and both smaller freshwater and larger marine ecosystems. His projects evaluate how fish populations and communities respond to multiple stressors, such as anthropogenic-induced nutrient loading, invasive species, climate change and intense fisheries harvest. H??k received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He then worked as a research investigator with the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research and was a visiting researcher at Stockholm University.

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Inez Hua

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Inez Hua is a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering. Her research is in the field of environmental engineering. She has published extensively in the areas of water pollution control, water quality and environmental photochemistry. She earned her Ph.D. in environmental engineering science at the California Institute of Technology.

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Chad Jafvert

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Chad Jafvert is a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering. Much of his research is on chemical and physicochemical fate processes of anthropogenic substances in natural and engineered environments. His interests include remediation strategies for contaminated sediments; real-time water quality monitoring, drinking water treatment in developing countries; and aquatic photochemistry of pollutants. His work on drinking water treatment has taken him to Colombia, Kenya and Tanzania to construct slow-sand water filters. Jafvert received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and was an NRC postdoctoral fellow and an EPA research engineer prior to his faculty appointment at Purdue.

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Linda Lee


Linda Lee is professor and associate head in the Department of Agronomy, program head for the Ecological Sciences and Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Program, and a faculty affiliate in the Division of Environmental Ecological Engineering. Her research focuses on quantifying the processes that govern environmental fate and remediation of contaminants in soils, sediments, biosolids, streams and groundwater for use in mitigating contamination, decision tools and management guidelines for industrial and agricultural settings. Her current research centers on contaminants of emerging concern, such as poly/perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol alternatives and compounds associated with pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Lee earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry; a master’s degree in environmental and engineering sciences; and a Ph.D. in soil chemistry and contaminant hydrology from the University of Florida.

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Zhao Ma

Forestry and Natural Resources
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Sara McMillan

Agricultural And Biological Engineering
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Venkatesh Merwade

Civil Engineering

Venkatesh Merwade is an associate professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering. His research is in surface water hydrology, focusing on computational modeling of watershed scale hydrologic and river processes. Recent projects include quantifying uncertainty in hydrologic and hydraulic models for flood modeling, development and use of cyberinfrastructure for sharing of hydrologic data and models, development of GIS techniques for river modeling, and incorporating soil moisture data for improving hydrologic predictions. Merwade has a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Jiqin (J.Q.) Ni

Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Jiqin Ni is associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. His research areas include animal waste management and treatment using anaerobic digestion to produce renewable energy and reduce water and air pollutions. Studies include production of volatile fatty acids and gases during wastewater treatment, methods to increase methane production from anaerobic fermentation, evaluation and post-treatment of wastewater from dairy operations and anaerobic digesters for nutrient removal, and runoff and leachate of anaerobic digestate after cropland application. His research also covers methodology and technology for environmental pollution monitoring, new sensor development, and data acquisition and control software programming. Ni received his Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

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Larry Nies

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

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Suranjan Panigrahi

Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology

Suranjan Panigrah is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology. His research focuses on the development of smart system to prevent, detect and manage critical (safety and wellness) issues in biological systems. He adopts a systems-based approach to develop and integrate intelligent sensor techniques with advanced electro-mechanical and computer-based information and machine learning technologies. He has cross-disciplinary training and expertise in engineering, biological systems, sensors, electronics, information technologies and management (MBA). Prior to joining the Purdue faculty, he was the founder/director of the Bio-imaging and Sensing Center at North Dakota State University and was a professor in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering department. Panigrahi received his Ph.D. from Iowa State University in agricultural and biosystems engineering with a minor in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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Linda Prokopy

Forestry and Natural Resources

Linda Prokopy is an associate professor and natural resource social scientist in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. She specializes in the social dimensions of watershed management and is the project director of the USDA-NIFA funded Useful to Usable (U2U) project that is delivering decision support tools to help corn producers in the Midwestern United States adapt to climate change. Her research group conducts numerous surveys and interviews with agricultural producers and their advisors throughout the Midwest to understand how they make behavioral decisions related to water quality. Prokopy received a B.S. in natural resources from the University of Michigan; a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from University of North Carolina.

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Marisol Sepulveda

Forestry and Natural Resources

Marisol Sepulveda is a professor of ecotoxicology and aquatic animal health. She has conducted extensive research evaluating the sublethal effects of a wide range of environmental contaminants on the physiology of numerous aquatic species. She studies the health effects of environmental contaminants in populations of free-ranging fish and wildlife and understanding the effects of pollutants on reproduction and early life-stage development. Sep?lveda earned a DVM in veterinary medicine from Universidad de Chile in Santiago, Chile, and a Ph.D. (veterinary sciences with a toxicology concentration) from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

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Amisha Shah

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Amisha Shah is an assistant professor in the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering and the School of Civil Engineering. Her research focuses on understanding the role of various physico-chemical processes on water quality during water treatment, sustainable water reuse, ballast water treatment, and CO2-capture technologies. Specific interests include evaluating chemical reaction kinetics and byproduct formation during disinfection (e.g. chlorination, ozonation and UV treatment) and evaluating mass transport mechanisms and contaminant rejection during membrane filtration. Shah received her Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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John Sutherland

Environmental and Ecological Engineering

John Sutherland is a professor and the Fehsenfeld Family Head of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue. His research interests include environmentally responsible manufacturing and quality engineering. He focuses on understanding how product design and manufacturing decisions impact water needs and pioneering ways to characterize the embodied water requirements of manufactured goods. He is also working to assess industrial water use and developing strategies, methods and technologies to reduce the water footprint of the manufacturing sector and its products. Sutherland received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Cary D Troy

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Cary Troy is an associate professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering. His research is on environmental fluid mechanics, focusing primarily on the movement of water in natural systems. He focuses on biophysical processes in Lake Michigan, using a combination of laboratory experiments, field measurements and hydrodynamic modeling. His projects have examined a wide range of topics related to flow in lakes and rivers, including mixing and dispersion, thermal modeling, effects of invasive species and climate change, and turbulence. Troy earned his Ph.D. at Stanford University.

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Jeff Volenec


Jeffrey Volenec is a professor in the Department of Agronomy. His research focuses on abiotic stress tolerance and input use efficiencies of crop plants, including water, nutrients and radiation. By understanding mechanisms of/limitations to use of these key inputs, his work aims to optimize agronomic performance by exploiting genotype x environment x management interactions. Understanding these interactions is critical to sustainably intensifying production of food, feed, fuel and fiber in the context of a changing climate and limiting natural resources as the human population approaches 9 billion by 2050. Volenec earned his Ph.D. in crop physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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Lisa Welp

Dept Earth, Atmospheric, And Planetary Sci

Lisa Welp is an assistant professor of stable isotope biogeochemistry. One area of her research focuses on the exchange of water between plants and the atmosphere. She uses stable isotopes of liquid water and water vapor in the atmosphere to identify spatial and seasonal variability in plant source water and atmospheric moisture, and to partition evapotranspiration into soil evaporation and plant transpiration. Her interests also include using carbon and oxygen isotopes of plant organic matter (e.g; tree rings) to measure leaf-level physiological responses to changing environmental conditions. Welp earned her Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.

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Terry West

Official Retiree

Terry West is a professor of earth sciences in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, with a courtesy appointment in the School of Civil Engineering. His specialty areas include applied geology related to groundwater contamination, soil mechanics, sanitary landfills, subsurface investigation, coal mine reclamation, landslides, and engineering properties of rock and concrete. West earned his Ph.D. in engineering geology from Purdue University. He received his B.A., B.S. and M.A. from Washington University, St. Louis.

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George Zhou

Civil Engineering

Zhi Zhou is an assistant professor in the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering and School of Civil Engineering. His research is on environmental microbiology and spans environmental risk assessment, innovative biofuel processes, cost-effective wastewater treatment systems, water reuse and disinfection technologies. He is developing molecular microbiology techniques to evaluate antibiotic-resistant bacteria in natural and engineered systems, molecular microbial ecology, microbial electrosynthesis cells, carbon nanotubes for water purification, and indirect and direct potable reuse. Zhou received his Ph.D. in environmental science in civil engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to Purdue, he was an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the National University of Singapore.

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