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Johns Hopkins, MWH Formalize Research Alliance
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Equipment used at a wastewater treatment plant
The first joint research project to be conducted as part of an alliance will involve industrial and municipal wastewater employed for recycling purposes. Participants will use such equipment as this reverse-osmosis pilot skid inside an MWH mobile pilot plant trailer. Courtesy of MWH Global

A research alliance between the Center for Water and Health at Johns Hopkins University and the engineering firm MWH Global is intended to provide students with a broader outlook on issues related to water and engineering while enhancing the company’s existing research capacities.

February 18, 2014—Announced this past fall, an agreement formalizing an alliance between the Center for Water and Health at Johns Hopkins University and the engineering firm MWH Global, of Broomfield, Colorado, is scheduled to extend for two years, with an option to be renewed at that time. As part of the agreement, MWH will provide financial support to the Center for Water and Health, which is part of the Bloomberg School of Public Health within the university.

One of the main goals for the Center for Water and Health in participating in the alliance is for its students to receive a “real-world perspective” in terms of how engineering practices and principles can affect public health, says Kellogg Schwab, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the director of the Johns Hopkins University Water Institute, which includes the Center for Water and Health. “Part of what we do in public health and engineering is translate research into action,” Schwab says. This process will be facilitated by having students interact with industry professionals who work to devise solutions for their company’s clients. This interaction “opens up a dialogue in both directions,” he says.

In addition to gaining insights into the applied side of engineering, university students participating as part of the alliance will also benefit from potential employment opportunities with MWH, says Joe Jacangelo, Ph.D., the director of research for the company and a graduate of Johns Hopkins who has served as an adjunct faculty member at the university for 12 years. Jacangelo oversees MWH’s Research Group, which currently comprises nine employees, most of whom are based in the firm’s office in Arcadia, California.

Another benefit of the alliance may take the form of increased grant funding for the university. “It’s always a challenge to get funding from federal agencies,” Schwab says. Having the university and MWH submit collaborative proposals that describe techniques that translate research into practice can enhance funding opportunities, he notes.

For both parties the alliance “makes sense on a number of different levels,” Jacangelo says. The alliance will enable MWH to improve its efforts to help its customers. “This is one way in which we can better serve our clients,” Jacangelo says, “because now we have a broader knowledge base that will be developed as part of this relationship.” The research alliance “brings the whole gamut of science, research, and engineering under one umbrella,” he notes. In this way, MWH expects to be able to continue to provide its clients with “innovative, sustainable solutions to their environmental issues,” Jacangelo says.

Meanwhile, faculty and students at Johns Hopkins University will be able to draw upon MWH’s expertise in wet infrastructure. By working closely with MWH, research participants at Johns Hopkins University will gain a “better understanding of what’s driving the goals” behind the projects that the firm conducts for its clients, Schwab says.

As for the research that is at the heart of the alliance, the joint investigations will include analyses of various technologies as well as examinations of larger tendencies within the fields of public health and engineering. “The intent of this relationship is to do very specific research, but also to perform research that helps address some of the megatrends we’re now observing in the world,” Jacangelo says, including water scarcity and the effects of climate change on water supplies. While some projects will last for only a few months, other longer-term endeavors may be conducted as part of doctoral dissertations or postdoctoral work.

The first joint research project to be conducted as part of the alliance will involve industrial and municipal wastewater employed for recycling purposes. Planned future projects include examining innovative methods for removing nutrients from municipal wastewater and investigating methods to ensure the integrity of reverse-osmosis and nanofiltration membranes for water reuse applications. For most of the research projects, the results will be published in peer-reviewed journals, Jacangelo says.


 

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