In a current ad campaign, Moen asks, “Water designs our life. Who designs for water?” Dr. Brooke Mayer and her team of researchers in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering respond with a resounding, “We do!” Mayer’s research addresses water design from two angles: providing people with safe, clean drinking water while also recovering wastes as resources from used water.

In one of her current projects, she focuses on using bacterial proteins to recover phosphorus from water. Phosphorus is integral to cellular function in all lifeforms, but too much of it can be a bad thing, as evidenced by the occurrence of algal blooms such as the one in Lake Erie that shut down Toledo’s water supply in 2014. Accordingly, removing phosphorus from used water to prevent such outcomes is a major environmental engineering goal. At the same time, phosphorus is a valuable ingredient in fertilizer, and the readily accessible supplies mined for this purpose are in finite supply with limited geographic distribution. Thus, Mayer’s work, which is supported by a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty), strives to close the cycle by recovering nuisance phosphorus as a valuable fertilizer resource.

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