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UND Civil Engineer uses Early Career Award to focus on purification techniques to address "new" or emerging threats

Posted on 3/23/2016

Frank Xiao at work in his lab. Photo by Shawna Noel Schill. Frank Xiao at work in his lab. Photo by Shawna Noel Schill.

University of North Dakota Assistant Professor Feng "Frank" Xiao is on the front lines of a battle space being invaded by new and pesky adversaries all the time - our drinking water.

Xiao, working out of the UND Civil Engineering Department, is interested in researching new water purification techniques to address "new" or emerging contaminates - such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides - that are present in our drinking water.

To help get Xiao's research off the ground and into the water, so to speak, he recently was one of only five UND faculty members to receive an Early Career Award from the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

"The Early Career Award is an excellent opportunity," Xiao said. "I started my career at UND in 2015 with very little start-up money to hire students, purchase supplies and generate preliminary data, which you need in order to receive more competitive funding."

Xiao earned his Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering (major) and Environmental Health Sciences (minor) from the University of Minnesota, where his research focused on emerging water contaminants and their fate, transport and effects. After his Ph.D. studies, Xiao worked three years as a postdoc, studying the conversion of agricultural biomass to carbonaceous adsorbents that can be used to remove contaminants and clean our water, air and soil.

With 22 publications to date, Xiao has served as a reviewer 95 times for leading journals in the field and a contract reviewer of the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines for two newly detected water-borne contaminants. He is also a member of the editorial board for theInternational Journal Environmental Pollution, and also will serve on a National Science Foundation review panel in April. He hopes that his Early Career Award will allow him continue the work he's done throughout his academic career and his time working in water treatment in China and Hong Kong with new carbon absorption technique for water contaminants.

"This research is important because we have so many pharmaceuticals and other nasty chemicals in our water," Xiao said. "We've invented so many kinds of antibiotics every year and we discharge them into the water to get absorbed into humans, animals and other non-targeted species environmental research is really related to public health."

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development gives out the Early Career Awards each year to pre-tenured professors, providing funding for original research, scholarship and creative works. The funds, which can be up to $20,000, provide support for student and post-doctoral researches, equipment, materials and supplies, along with conference and collaborative travel. This year, five UND professors received the awards.

The funds can be used throughout the year and makes it easier for young faculty members to get serious about their important research.

Xiao says he will use the new UND award in conjunction with a postdoc grant he received to hire student research assistants and postdocs and to purchase the supplies and tools he needs to develop initial data and results.

By Carrie Sandstrom, University & Public Affairs student writer

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