Inaugural Water Research Grants Announced

Five seed grants have been awarded to researchers working in the Institute for Molecular Engineering’s Water Research Initiative at the University of Chicago. Collaborative teams of scientists from UChicago’s departments of Chemistry, Ecology & Evolution, IME and Physics, along with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Argonne National Laboratory have received funding to develop research projects with strong potential for providing technological solutions to pressing challenges society is facing in water production, transportation and reuse.

Through a competition sponsored by UChicago, BGU and Argonne, proposals from nine cross-institutional research teams were evaluated for one-year of funding, with the potential for renewal for one more year.

“All the proposals were scientifically excellent, innovative, and novel,” said Steven Sibener, Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry and the James Franck Institute and Director of the Water Research Initiative. “The five that were chosen were the lead programs, in part because they truly benefit from leveraging the strengths at the three institutions. They all require a true partnership in something that no one has done or could do alone.”

Sibener pointed out that another strength of the selected projects was their immediate relevance. “The winning proposals cover a range of topics that address critical issues concerning water resources,” he said. “They will use basic science, applied science and engineering to take discoveries to a new level of innovation.”

Ben-Gurion, UChicago, and Argonne jointly committed more than $1 million over the next two years to support the inaugural projects. Proposal submissions were reviewed by an interdisciplinary and independent panel of experts based in the US and Israel, none of whom had a proposal under consideration in the seed grant competition. Based on the panel’s recommendations, projects were authorized for funding by the Steering Committee for Collaboration on Water Research.

The funded proposals aim at addressing an array of challenges in water management. The research topics include: seeking the fundamental understanding of the  biofouling process on filtration membranes; developing new ways to synthesize novel, functional membranes; using nano materials for catalytic oxidation of organic pollutants in water; and developing tracers to investigate ground water flow and replenishment in aquifers. This last topic is particularly relevant to the joint US/Israel effort as they will use their proposed methods to investigate two aquifer systems that are important sources of groundwater exploitation in Israel.

Now that the seed grants have been awarded, work will begin in early 2014.

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