My path to becoming an environmental engineer

Becoming an environmental engineer
DeMMO project expedition

I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Dr. Maggie Osburn’s Lab in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL).  In the Osburn’s Lab, I am investigating the metabolic potential of prokaryotes looking at functional genes from assembled metagenomic genomes. These genomes were recovered from samples collected from the Deep Mine Microbial Observatory (DeMMO) site fluids, located the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, South Dakota, USA.  This allows me to focus on the “microbial dark matter”, microbes detected through their DNA but not yet cultivated. Coupling the study of metabolism potential with their subsurface environment data can help us understand their environmental and ecological roles in the different elements’ cycles.

Prior to Dr. Osburn’s lab, I joined, as a Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. George Wells’ Lab at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL).  In the Wells’ Lab I focused on understanding the influence of operational conditions on microbial community selection in Sidestream Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal (S2EBPR).  This technology achieves biological phosphorus removal in a sidestream fermentation tank with improved stability. The process can be coupled with nitrogen removal when proper bacterial selection occurs (e.g. Tetrasphaera). 

In 2016, I received my Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN) where I worked in the Environmental Biotechnology Lab under the direction of Dr. Robert Nerenberg. As an environmental engineer my Ph.D. research focused on one of the grand engineering challenges that involves managing the nitrogen cycle.  Specifically, I investigated the role of wastewater biofilm systems in contributing to global warming and emitting a potent greenhouse gas, such as nitrous oxide (N2O).

I also hold a Master’s degree in Environmental biotechnology from the University “Sapienza” (Rome, Italy).  As part of my Master’s degree program, I carried out research as a visiting scholar at the University of Minnesota  in Dr. Paige Novak‘s research group.  Here I worked on the fate of phytoestrogens in dairy wastewater and their environmental impacts.

During my free time, I enjoy playing tennis and volleyball with friends.  I especially enjoy photography and traveling to U.S. national parks and other states and countries. 

If you want to learn more about what I do, visit my publications page!