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Biodesign Institute recruits environmental expert

June 05, 2008

To help advance one of the Biodesign Institute’s core research themes of improving the environmental health of the planet, the institute’s Center for Environmental Biotechnology counts among its faculty newly appointed associate professor, Rolf Halden.

Halden plans to further his already extensive research on the environmental fate of mass-produced chemicals, associated health risks, toxic body burdens effects in humans, and biotechnologies helpful in reclaiming contaminated drinking water and agricultural soils.

“Our goal is to uncover environmental health problems and deliver solutions to our society,” says Halden, who in addition to leading and expanding research at the center, will also coordinate the specialty areas of Environmental Engineering and Water Resources in the expanding Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

Halden’s research is right in line with the Biodesign Institute’s mission to solve pressing issues concerning renewable energy, sustainability and human health. He notes that “most of our environmental and human health issues are self-inflicted” and that “opportunities abound to improve quality of life by learning our lessons from past mistakes.”

For example, by monitoring human cord blood and breast milk, his research group has discovered problematic chemicals – exposure to which begins in the womb and continues on from birth for a lifetime.

“Putting more thought into chemical design and usage potentially could save millions of lives and save billions of dollars in health care,” Halden says. “To avoid environmental and human health problems, we need to develop alternative products made from chemicals that are safe, and that will break down much more rapidly than we can introduce them into the biosphere.”

Halden comes to ASU from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he was an adjunct associate professor of Environment Health Sciences and held a joint appointment in Geography and Environmental Engineering.

“Rolf Halden tremendously expands our center’s ability to do multidisciplinary research on the fate of environmental chemicals, and also on the microbial communities that we use to improve the quality of water and soil,” says Bruce Rittmann, director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology.

Halden says the Biodesign Institute’s interdisciplinary approach to research makes the center’s opportunities so promising.

“Stepping out of our academic silos is fun and increases research productivity,” he says. “Biodesign has the ability to provide an umbrella, a roof, where people from different disciplines can jointly find solutions to problems that appear insurmountable when viewed through the lens of a single discipline, be it medicine or engineering. When you put it all together, it’s very exciting.”

Before joining academia, Halden was project engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he directed the construction and operation of physical and biological groundwater treatment systems. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Minnesota, and earned a master’s in microbiology from the Technical University of Brunswick, Germany.