ASU engineers join US effort to protect water quality

November 12, 2014

Arizona State University engineers will work as part of a new national center for research and innovation in small- and medium-sized drinking water systems.

The Design of Risk Reducing, Innovative Implementable Small System Knowledge (DeRISK) Center will develop and test advanced, low-cost methods of reducing, controlling and eliminating water contaminants that present challenges to communities worldwide. Kiril Hristovsky water research Download Full Image

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded more than $4 million to the University of Colorado-Boulder to establish and lead the center together with Arizona State University, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of New Hampshire and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership as partners.

The center’s focus will be on the kinds of smaller drinking water systems that make up most of the public water systems in the United States. Many of the systems face obstacles, such as limited resources, aging infrastructure and a lack of capability to comply with Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.

The center is envisioned to serve as a hub for collaboration between the universities and various state and local government agencies, private-sector organizations and the Canadian small water systems network.

“By its selection to be part of this EPA-funded multi-university center, ASU is again being recognized as one of the leading research institutions in developing solutions for safeguarding the environment and public health,” said Kiril Hristovski, who will lead the ASU team. Hristovski is an assistant professor in The Polytechnic School, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

His research partner on the project will be Paul Westerhoff, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment and ASU’s vice provost of academic research programming.

The ASU researchers will focus on developing novel photochemical-based applications, including both sunlight and engineered light sources, to improve water quality and provide effective photon-based water treatment for small systems.

“The ultimate goal is to develop novel and sustainable technologies for photocatalytic water treatment that can move us closer toward using sunlight to convert nitrate and other contaminants to innocuous end-products without addition of any chemicals. Nanomaterials will play a central role in this research endeavor,” Hristovski said.

As part of the center’s activities at ASU, the researchers plan to develop and prototype novel nanomaterial-based treatment technologies, which can remove nitrate and other contaminants, such as hexavalent chromium, from water by photocatalytic reduction.

Nitrate was selected as a model contaminant because it represents a key component of the nitrogen cycle. The sustainable management of the nitrogen cycle on a global scale is designated by the National Academy of Engineering as one of the Grand Challenges for engineers in the 21st century.

Estimates suggest that more than 24 million people in the United States alone are affected by nitrate contamination, making it the most ubiquitous contaminant in drinking water sources that poses high risk to human health and the environment.

“Nitrate is high on the International Agency for Research on Cancer priority list for upcoming review of possible carcinogenicity,” Hristovski said.

“Hexavalent chromium is already a confirmed carcinogen, and many may remember it as the focus of the Erin Brockovich story. Development of novel technologies that could eliminate these contaminants from water is of critical importance in the national and global effort to protect public health and the environment,” he said.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU project helps teens improve communication skills

November 12, 2014

Teens from Boys and Girls Clubs across metropolitan Phoenix have been visiting Arizona State University’s West campus this semester for interactive sessions designed to help them build their skills in how to interview, become better listeners, build awareness around intercultural communication and tell their personal stories.

More than 70 teens visited campus Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 for sessions with students from ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the core college on the West campus. Their final visit in the Spark Your Inner Speaker program is set for Nov. 18. Boys and Girls Club teens Download Full Image

“The passion of the ASU students working with us is inspiring,” said D.J. Heywood, teen coordinator for the Peoria Boys and Girls Club, one of 12 Valley Boys and Girls clubs that are participating in Spark Your Inner Speaker. “After the first session, I talked with one of our teens who now wants to major in communication. This is one of the best events we have been to in quite some time.”

The Oct. 21 session focused on professional communication defining communication, interviewing and listening. On Nov. 4 participants heard from a panel of individuals who were first-generation college students, including Marlene Tromp, the dean of New College, as part of a session about creating and telling one’s own story. Students worked on their non-verbal communication skills and building their stories.

The final session on Nov. 18 will focus on intercultural communication and communication with their community. The teens will record their stories in New College’s Communication Assessment and Learning Lab (CALL). Every teen in attendance will receive an honorary Sparky Speaker certificate. Those who attend multiple sessions will attend a special ASU sports event.

CALL is one of only 11 communication labs to be designated a nationally certified mentoring program as identified by the National Association of Communication Centers.

“Our goal is not only to help the visiting teens develop their skills in public speaking, intercultural communication and professional communication,” said Bonnie Wentzel, a New College faculty member and faculty director of CALL.

“We want these young people to become more intentional communicators, and for them to understand that being able to advocate on their own behalf through public speaking, storytelling and interviewing will greatly improve their likelihood for success,” Wentzel said. “We also want to build a bridge to a college degree, and we would love to have them pursue their degree at ASU on the West campus. For most of these students and their teen leaders, this is their very first visit to our campus.”

The Spark Your Inner Speaker program is also educating teens about career possibilities open to college graduates beyond what they learn through popular culture, and helping them understand they can build a sense of community at the university, Wentzel said. The visiting teens have had the opportunity to tour the West campus.

The ASU students working with the Boys and Girls Club teens are CALL mentors who have completed public speaking coursework and received training in ethical peer mentoring practices, as well as communication skills. CALL is unique to the ASU community and is one of the largest communication labs west of the Mississippi River.