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CAREER: Toward Resilient Stormwater Quality Practices: Biotransformation for Sustained Removal of Emerging Contaminants


Stormwater runoff is a national challenge that increases in scope as population and urbanization increases. When rain falls on streets, rooftops, and other hard surfaces, contaminants can be washed into rivers and lakes, impacting aquatic life and drinking water sources. Green stormwater treatment was developed to remove stormwater contaminants as a solution to this problem. Although this technology has potential to transform stormwater from a waste to a valuable resource, the treatment mechanisms in most systems is poorly understood. This knowledge gap prevents the wider adoption of this technology. To address this gap, the research team will use cutting-edge chemical and biological analytical tools to understand how bacteria, fungi, and plants combine with engineered stormwater filter media for enhanced treatment efficiency. The broader impacts to society include wider adoption of inexpensive, low-maintenance stormwater treatment systems to improve water quality and protect the Nation's drinking water sources. The investigator will engage college and middle school students in the teaching-learning continuum to increase scientific literacy. An added benefit is the enhancement of the 'pipeline' of students from diverse backgrounds into the field of water supply science and engineering.<br/><br/>The research goal of this CAREER project is to provide fundamental insights into the coupled biological and abiotic processes in stormwater green infrastructure systems to sustain contaminant removal. Specific objectives of the research plan are to: 1) discover novel approaches to bioaugment stormwater infiltration media; 2) determine uptake and transformation of stormwater contaminants in plants; and 3) characterize coupled biological-abiotic redox transformations. Advanced high-resolution mass spectrometry coupled with semi-targeted metabolomics will be used to elucidate novel contaminant transformation products and pathways. New biological enrichment approaches will be applied to create stormwater filtration media with redox-active sorptive surfaces. Electron shuttling for stormwater contaminant transformation will be characterized using x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and electrochemistry. The research plan will be fully integrated into a formally-assessed education plan to engage the public on water quality and inspire and train the next generation of scientists and engineers. Educational objectives will: 1) create 8th grade water science and engineering content modules to meet teacher needs for next generation science standards by engaging university students; 2) host STEM education teachers for hands-on research experiences; 3) engage members of the public on stormwater quality topics at STEM festivals; and 4) disseminate research to current practitioners and decision makers. The integrated research and education plan will help move society toward low-energy water quality solutions in the face of increasing impacts from non-point pollutants and shift stormwater from a waste to a resource.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Gregory Lefevre
University of Iowa
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