The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Reckhow Receives Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship Award

Dave Reckhow

Dave Reckhow

Professor David Reckhow of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department has been selected as one of the three UMass recipients of the 2016-2017 Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship Award. A Conti Fellowship provides faculty members with a unique opportunity to focus on their research or creative activities. These fellowships are managed by the office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement and provide a one-year release from teaching and service duties in addition to a $3,500 cash award. Fellows are chosen based on their record of outstanding accomplishments in research and creative activity.

Reckhow is the director of the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems (WINSSS), which brings together a national team of experts to transform drinking water treatment for small water systems to meet the urgent need for state-of-the-art innovation, development, demonstration, and implementation of treatment, information, and process technologies.

As Reckhow says, “This Conti Fellowship would have two main purposes: to develop key tools for advancing our understanding of natural organic matter in drinking water; and to lay the groundwork for the creation of a world-class center for development and testing of water technologies on the Amherst campus.”

Related to this first goal, Reckhow explains that “Meaningful characterization of natural aquatic organic matter is one of the ‘grand challenges’ in environmental engineering.”

According to Reckhow, over the past 50 years, researchers have made great strides in defining the behavior of specific inorganic ions and small anthropogenic organic molecules in natural waters and engineered water treatment systems. This information has led to informed design of treatment systems and mathematical models needed to efficiently operate them. 

“As new contaminants emerge, we now have the protocols and tools to properly update our knowledge base so that we can understand their behavior and engineer their removal,” says Reckhow. “Nevertheless, serious gaps in our knowledge and inefficiencies still exist. The presence of natural organic matter is largely responsible for these shortcomings. It affects the behavior and treatment efficiency for all other solutes in water. In addition, it breaks down in treatment systems forming compounds that may cause cancer in a small fraction of the public.” 

Last year Reckhow was the lead principal investigator on a successful National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant for the purchase of a state-of-the-art LC/MS quadrupole time of flight instrument (Xevo G2-XS QToF). Its main purpose is for the development of a set of natural organic matter characterization techniques that would shed new light on this grand challenge in environmental engineering.


In his Conti application, Reckhow proposed that this new instrument can be used to separate and quantify natural organic matter molecules based on the properties that are critical to environmental engineers: hydrophobicity, charge, effective molecular size, nucleophilicity, and elemental composition. 


“Armed with this information,” says Reckhow, “we will finally be able to understand why natural organic matter affects engineered water systems the way it does and thereby develop new treatment methods that are better able to achieve the intended goals. I’m confident that during the Conti Fellowship period, I will be able to develop preliminary methods that will show the utility of this approach. I’m also confident that this will lead to publications and follow-up NSF grants that will help us fully develop this new area of research.”

The second goal of Reckhow’s Conti Fellowship will be expanding UMass national leadership on new water treatment technologies, as spearheaded by the WINSSS network.

As Reckhow says, “I propose that a part of my Conti Fellowship period be spent in completing this original vision of a fully functional set of pilot facilities along with the corporate sponsorship to keep them working for decades to come.” 

That goal would mean completing the development of mobile pilot unit (MPU), establishing a national testing center on the Amherst Campus through design and construction of the UMass Amherst Pilot Plant (UMAPP), and developing existing industrial contacts to open up collaboration at the bench-scale, mobile pilot scale (trailer) and large pilot scale (UMAPP).

That process is well under way. “Former Governor Duval Patrick helped us earmark $10 million in bond funds for a new pilot UMAPP testing facility on the Amherst campus as well as matching money for an MPU,” says Reckhow. “UMass has since purchased a 36-ft trailer using the matching funds and started customizing it for use as a process testing lab. When completed, it will give us capabilities that no other university in the U.S. has.”

Reckhow adds that “Once we complete construction of the UMAPP, we will have a unique opportunity to claim our position as a world leader in translating laboratory research on water and wastewater treatment to full-scale practice.” (April 2016)