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KU Engineering professor wins $100K award to research wastewater intensification

Wed, 10/19/2022

LAWRENCE — A prestigious award from the Water Research Foundation will provide the opportunity for a University of Kansas School of Engineering professor to research a breakthrough approach to improving water quality.

Belinda Sturm, KU professor of engineeringBelinda Sturm, professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering, is the winner of the 2022 Paul L. Busch Award. With this $100,000 research prize, Sturm will assess how the physical, chemical and biological properties of aerobic granular sludge impact the removal of pathogens and microplastics from wastewater.

Sturm’s research could allow municipal wastewater treatment plants to double their capacity without the need for expanding or adding new treatment equipment.

“The greatest achievement in water quality research is obtained when knowledge is put into practice to create a safer environment,” Sturm said. “This award will enable me to explore a new research application in collaboration with utility partners.”

Wastewater from residences, businesses and other properties carries materials such as carbon, nutrients, pathogens and microplastics to water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs). While WRRFs have processes in place to remove contaminants, there is a need for more research into increasing capacity, ensuring efficiency and understanding the broader applications of existing treatment technologies.

Partnering with the city of Lawrence as well as Metro Water Recovery in Denver, Sturm will assess the removal of pathogens from wastewater due to grazing by the protozoa in biofilms, as well as the sorption of microplastics onto aerobic granular sludge granules.

This research will “explore the fundamental properties of AGS while demonstrating full-scale and practical improvements for water quality,” Sturm said. This research has the potential to significantly enhance wastewater treatment and further the science related to biofilms.

In addition to her work at KU, Sturm serves as director of the Kansas National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF-EPSCoR) and chair of the Water Environment Federation’s Municipal Design Symposium.

For 22 years, the WRF Endowment for Innovation in Applied Water Quality Research has supported the Paul L. Busch Award, providing more than $2 million in funding to researchers who are making major breakthroughs in water quality science. More information about the Paul L. Busch Award can be found on WRF’s website.



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