Zhao of Auburn wins Creative Research and Scholarship Award at 2021 Auburn University Faculty Awards

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He still remembers it. It was exciting. Dongye “Don” Zhao was a graduate research assistant at Lehigh University. He received an email from a researcher interested in an article he had written a year earlier – his first published in a journal – on the sorption of trace contaminants by polymer ligand exchange.

“We had developed a new absorbent material that could selectively remove toxic chemicals such as arsenic and selenate from water,” said Zhao, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council. “I was told they would cite my article, which made me feel like we were doing something useful. Great encouragement. It was my first quote.

That was in 1996 – 210 journal articles indexed in the Science Citation Index and there are 14,529 citations. It’s not a typo, it’s one of the toughest jobs Andy Nowak has ever seen.

“Don is no ordinary professor,” said Nowak, Elton and Lois G. Huff chair, a distinguished fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “He’s a very smart person, but the reason he’s so productive is because he’s a hard worker. When he first arrived here in 2001 it was often late in the evening and we were the only two people in the building. He would always work. Obviously, there are many examples of how this kind of hard work has paid off. “

The last? The Creative Research and Scholarship Award, intended to recognize the research achievements and contributions of Auburn University professors and is part of the 2021 faculty awards. Nowak says he can think of few professors more deserving of this. honor that Zhao.

During his 20 years at Samuel Ginn College of Engineering in Auburn, Zhao has led, co-led or participated in over 40 projects with external funding totaling nearly $ 9 million. He has also been a major professor for more than 25 doctoral students and more than 25 Master of Science students, has landed the writing of two major international journals – “Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering” and “Water Environment Research” – and has presented 124 invited seminars and presentations around the world.

In addition to placing him in the top 1% of the world’s most cited researchers, according to Clarivate and the Stanford List of World’s Top Scientists, Zhao’s innovative work in environmental remediation has earned him seven patents. Americans, including several for developed nanotechnologies. for the treatment and decontamination of soil and groundwater. He was the first in the world to develop nanoparticles stabilized by polysaccharides for in situ degradation of chlorinated solvents in soil and groundwater, as well as the first to conceptualize the in situ immobilization of metals / metalloids / radionuclides in soil and groundwater using stabilized nanoparticles.

“It’s amazing to apply the latest scientific advances to the development of new cost-effective technologies to clean up contaminated water,” said Zhao, Godbold Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “It protects human health and also saves millions of dollars in water treatment costs. So I am delighted that our work, which stems from the many talented students and visiting scholars, has had some impact on the field. “

“Some impact” is one way of putting it. Zhao’s work has spawned a whole new line of research into technologies for cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater using stabilized nanoparticles and has inspired literally hundreds of thousands of additional studies. According to Google Scholar, one of two journal articles reflecting these particular innovations, which resulted in two patents, has been cited 914 times. The other was cited 721 times.

It’s not that Zhao matters. If he did, he wouldn’t have time to change the world. Over the past five years, his searches have averaged five citations per day; 12 have come in the last 24 hours.

“But, yeah,” Zhao said with a smile, “I’ll still use Google Scholar from time to time.”

About Mark A. Tomlin

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