An environmental engineer who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut and is now a professor at Columbia University was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow. Kartik Chandran — who integrates microbial ecology, molecular biology and engineering to transform wastewater from a troublesome pollutant to a valuable resource — is one of 24 individuals recognized with a so-called MacArthur “genius grant.”
The program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.
"My years at UConn created the foundation for a lot of work I do now."
“As a society, we are faced with multiple challenges, including lack of clean water, lack of energy, food security,” Chandran says in a video on the MacArthur Foundation website, “so our philosophy, our vision is to address these multiple challenges in conjunction and not in isolation.”
He aims to use wastewater to produce useful resources such as fertilizers, chemicals, and energy sources, as well as clean water, in a way that takes into account current climate, energy, and nutrient challenges.
In an article in UConn’s School of Engineering’s newsletter Momentum in 2012, Chandran, who earned his degree in 1999, credited his Ph.D. advisor, former environmental engineering professor Barth Smets, with introducing him to the need for processes that reduce and remove excess nitrogen from the environment.
“One of the first projects that I worked on, starting during the fall of 1997, was on improvements to the design and operation of a biological nitrogen removal plant in Connecticut,” he said, “and this really set the tone for my research and technology development that I do currently.
“My years at UConn created the foundation for a lot of work that I do now, and the concepts, ideologies, and work ethic that I learned while at UConn permeate my activities even today.”
Chandran, who went to high school in Bangalore, tailors his solutions to local circumstances. One example of his field work is in rural Ghana, where he has re-engineered source-separation toilets to not only provide sanitation but also recover nutrients for agricultural use. In Kumasi, Ghana, he is testing the large-scale conversion of sludge into biofuel, while also providing new training opportunities for local engineers and managers.
Chandran says he would like to use the resources afforded by the MacArthur Foundation to apply the innovations he is developing to address global needs.
After earning his doctorate at UConn in 1999, Chandran spent a further two years at UConn as a postdoctoral research fellow. He went on to work as a senior technical specialist with the private engineering firm Metcalf and Eddy of New York Inc., and a research associate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is now an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University.
— Excepted from UCONN TODAY
(Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)