Helena Avila-Arias

 Helena Avila-Arias Profile Picture
Home Department:

Mentor / Lab:
Dr. Ron Turco (AGRY) and Dr. Larry Nies (EEE/EC)

Specific Research Area / Project:
Soil Microbial Community Response to Metal Oxide Engineered Nanomaterials Involved in Energy Storage Technologies

Undergraduate Institution:
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Bogotá, Colombia)

Research Profile:

The planet Earth is our home, and as home, our desire should be taking care of it (I have just made a huge hopeful assumption). We are part of nature, and I believe that before interacting with the environment, we need to consider consequences of our actions. We need a healthy planet to live; we depend on it. The planet does not need healthy (nor sick) humans to exist. However, humans forget the mist in space and time that we represent and, instead, focus on our own physiological and artificial needs without having any mercy on our Earth.

With the growing human population comes increasing demand for resources, resulting in an ever increasing need for energy. Consequently, the myriad of portable electronic devices and battery/hybrid electric vehicles presents a developing challenge for the growing demand of energy storage, requiring new materials and novel approaches. Metal oxide engineered nanomaterials (MO-ENMs) have broad applications in energy storage and emerging fuel cell technologies. However, the production and application of ENMs will lead to inevitable environmental release during all life cycle phases; manufacturing, delivery, use, and disposal. Environmental concentrations of most ENMs are unknown, but exposure modeling studies suggest soil as the major sink. ENM impacts are underesearched leading to a growing concern regarding immediate and long term effects.

My research interests develop, attempting to understand how anthropogenic compounds affect the world invisible to the naked eye yet responsible for the basis of life: microorganisms and their communities!

 Helena Avila-Arias Research Picture

About Me:

 Helena Avila-Arias About Me Picture

I decided to jump into this Ph.D. journey primarily because I love research and was 100% convinced that I wanted to be a professor.

My passion for research is intact. The discovery process from identifying a gap of knowledge through analyzing the ‘weirdness’ of the results is just fascinating!

My passion for teaching is present as well. I believe we are all students and teachers every day, not only within an academic institution. Inspiring and being inspired is a daily experience!

Meeting people in the name of science (including traveling!) is one exciting part of being a scientist in which I very much enjoy! Interacting and sharing experiences with researchers within and outside your field is so enriching; seeing the same topic through different lenses is an awing experience!

ESE has allowed me to do exactly that; it has helped open my mind (and ears) to interdisciplinary approaches across many topics. We are a community that looks forward to solving problems and improving situations. Sharing with eyes from different backgrounds has been absolutely beneficial to my growth and success thus far.


  • Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship. The Graduate School. Purdue University. 2017
  • Teaching Assistant. Soil Ecology. Fall 2015 & Fall 2016.
  • Colciencias Colombia-Purdue fellowship. Doctor of Philosophy, studies abroad. 2012-2016


  • Z. Arbeli, E. Garcia-Bonilla, C. Pardo, K. Hidalgo, T. Velásquez, L. Peña, E. Ramos, H. Avila-Arias, N. Molano-Gonzalez, P.F.B. Brandão, F. Roldan. Persistence of pentolite (PETN and TNT) in soil microcosms and microbial enrichment cultures. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 2016, 1-12
  • Patricia A. Holden, Frederick Klaessig, Ronald F. Turco, John H. Priester, Cyren M. Rico, Helena Avila-Arias, Monika Mortimer, Kathleen Pacpaco, and Jorge L. Gardea-Torresdey. Evaluation of Exposure Concentrations Used in Assessing Manufactured Nanomaterial Environmental Hazards: Are They Relevant? Environmental Science & Technology 2014 48 (18), 10541-10551
  • Avila, F.H. 2012. Study of TNT and PENT aerobic degradation by bacteria isolated from explosives-contaminated soils. MS thesis. Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Bogota, Colombia.
  • Avila, F.H. and Cruz, A.M. 2008. Effects of the plant coverage and climatic season over total microorganisms and heterotrophic density in soils of La Vieja and Otun river basins in the Colombian coffee eco-region. Undergraduate Research. Bachelor of Science, Industrial Microbiology. Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Bogota, Colombia.


  • Avila-Arias, H., Nies, L., Bischoff Gray, M. and Turco, R.F. Impacts of Molybdenum-, Nickel-, and Lithium- Oxide Nanomaterials on Agricultural Soil Resilience. Poster session presented at: ICEENN 2016. 11th International Conference on the Environmental Effects of Nanoparticles and Nanomaterials; 2016 Aug 14-18; Golden, CO.
  • Avila-Arias, F.H., Nies, L., Bischoff Gray, M. and Turco, R.F. Assessing the Impact of Metal Oxide Nanoparticles on Soil Microbial Communities. Poster session presented at: EmCon 2014. Fourth International Conference on Occurrence, Fate, Effects, & Analysis of Emerging Contaminants in the Environment; 2014 Aug 19-22; Iowa City, IA.
  • Roldán, F., Avila, F., García, E., Garzón, V., Rodríguez, G., Villegas, S., Numpaque, M. and Arbeli, Z. TNT Aerobic Degradation and Surfactant Production by Bacteria. Poster session presented at: World Biotechnology Congress 2013; 2013 June 3-6; Boston, MA.


  • Counselor – Biofuel Team. Duke Energy Academy at Purdue. 2015
  • Treasurer. Colombian Student Association at Purdue. 2013-2014
  • Poster and 3MT competition Chair. Annual Symposium Ecological Sciences and Engineering Program. 2013

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