Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation 2023 - Peter Jaffé and Shan Huang, Bioremediation of long-lasting contaminants
In recognition of the importance to society of innovative research and scholarship, the 2023 Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation will be awarded to Peter Jaffé, William L. Knapp Professor of Civil Engineering and professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Shan Huang, professional specialist in civil and environmental engineering, for the development of bacterial approaches to eliminating harmful contaminants that are persistent in the environment.
Sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals,” per and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) persist in global water supplies, soil, air, and in the blood of a large majority of people and animals in the United States. These chemicals have been linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals, and they represent one of the most pressing emerging contaminant problems in the environmental sciences.
Although some of the chemicals have been phased out of products by U.S. manufacturers, the substances were used for decades in products such as non-stick pans and fire-fighting foam. The chemicals resist breaking down in the environment because of the strength of the carbon-fluorine bond.Jaffé, Huang and their team discovered a new bacterium, Acidimicrobium A6, that can break this bond. Technologies that harness this bacterial activity could remove PFAS from soil and water in locations where they are highly concentrated, such as airports, naval facilities and wastewater treatment plants.