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Rittmann receives Arizona BioIndustry's top research award

October 05, 2009

Bruce Rittmann, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, a part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has won the 2009 Award for Research Excellence from the Arizona BioIndustry Association.

Rittmann is director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute at ASU.

He is an international leader in using microbes found in nature in ways that can benefit the environment or human health. His research team tackles some of the world’s leading problems related to water, waste and energy.

Their research projects include pollution cleanup, treating water and wastewater, capturing renewable energy and understanding how microbes in the digestive system may be linked to obesity, as well as other efforts.

Rittmann also was honored this year with the Simon W. Freese Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Environmental Water and Resource Institute, for his innovative work on using microorganisms to improve water quality.

Especially noteworthy is the membrane biofilm reactor, a technology now being commercialized to destroy a wide range of pollutants found in waters and wastewaters. This technology can remove harmful contaminants such as perchlorate, nitrates and arsenate from water and soils – problems that are vital to the future of the Southwest, where the Colorado River water is used by seven states.

Rittmann is part of an ASU research team using two innovative approaches to renewable bioenergy: harnessing anaerobic microbes to convert biomass to useful energy forms, such as methane, hydrogen or electricity; and using photosynthetic bacteria or algae to capture sunlight and produce new biomass that can be turned into liquid fuels, like biodiesel.

To improve human health, his research team’s collaboration with the Methuselah Foundation is exploring how to mitigate aging by identifying naturally occurring microbes to clean up the "junk" that accumulates in our bodies.

In addition, in an innovative study with partner Mayo Clinic Arizona, Rittmann’s group explored the causes of obesity by identifying microbial communities to offer new clues in the body weight differences in average, obese and gastric bypass subjects.

Writer: Joe Caspermeyer, Biodesign Institute at ASU