Friday 3 January 2020

An NWRI-BioLargo Fellowship Success Story

Source: NWRI

The National Water Research Institute (NWRI) has, for many years, offered fellowships to graduate students in the US whose research focuses on—you guessed it—water. These fellowships are typically sponsored by companies who develop water-related technologies and are meant to help propel the careers of up-and-coming water scientists and spur innovation in water technologies. Today’s article highlights one of these graduate students—Jianfeng Zhou of the Georgia Institute of Technology—and how his NWRI fellowship is helping move his research and his career.

One of the goals of these NWRI fellowships is to promote exposure to innovative private companies in the water industry, creating opportunities for fellows to apply their research skills in the context of private industry. For Jianfeng (Jacob) Zhou (LinkedIn profile), his fellowship gave him the chance at an internship with the company who sponsored his NWRI fellowship in the first place—BioLargo, Inc. Jacob is a third-year PhD student in Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. His NWRI/BioLargo-funded research focuses on developing novel advanced water disinfection technologies that overcome the downsides of the most common disinfection technique worldwide, chlorination.

“Chlorination is really easy to deploy and very cheap, but its biggest problem is that it generates by-products that can cause health problems like cancer. That’s a big problem worldwide. Our research attempts to solve this problem by developing new disinfection methodologies that potentially don’t create by-products,” commented Mr. Zhou. “The technology we’re working on uses an enhanced electric field that penetrates the membranes of bacteria without leaving any by-products. It uses special nanowires to achieve this without consuming too much electricity.”

The technology Jacob is working on in his PhD shows real promise, and his research acumen caught the eye of BioLargo, Inc., the underwriter of his NWRI fellowship, and a developer of novel water technologies. BioLargo offered Jacob an internship at its engineering division BioLargo Engineering, Science & Technologies (BLEST) to work on some of BioLargo’s own up-and-coming water treatment technologies and to deploy his water science skills in real-world environmental engineering challenges.

On his experience at BLEST, Jacob commented, “It was great. BLEST has a very experienced team, and it’s great to learn how a small but seasoned team solves water challenges. In academia, sometimes you are focused on the novelty and innovation of a new technology or concept, but it doesn’t always see the light of day in real application. At BLEST, I had the chance to witness the practical, real-world implementation of solutions to water-related problems. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at BLEST.”

The President of BioLargo Engineering, Randall Moore, was also very pleased with the opportunity to collaborate with Mr. Zhou in his internship, “Jacob is a very bright and promising scientist. He brought a lot of value to BioLargo Engineering during his internship, and I’m certain he will bring a lot of value to groups he works with in the future – whether they be academic labs or water-focused companies like ours.”

Following Jacob’s internship at BLEST, BioLargo, Inc. CEO Dennis P. Calvert was singing praises for NWRI’s fellowship program, “I am very impressed with NWRI for its ability to select talented researchers for the fellowship, as evidenced by our experience with Jacob. We feel that the NWRI/BioLargo fellowship clearly makes an impact in the innovation ecosystem that surrounds the water industry, and we’re proud to be sponsors alongside this great, innovative organization.”

Jacob’s experience with the NWRI/BioLargo scholarships illustrates the potential power of funding programs like these and is an example of how academic/industrial collaborations help to fuel water innovation. In Jacob’s words, “[he] originally got interested in water science because he wanted to make a contribution to society and to public health by improving water treatment technology”. His impressive work at Georgia Tech and the internship at BioLargo, a budding water technology innovator, suggest he is well on his way to achieving that goal.

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