Chemistry for a cleaner environment

Posted on 29. Aug, 2012 by in Academic Departments, Annual Report, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, Interdisciplinary Degree Programs, Issues, Research

When Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Matthew Ginder-Vogel joined UW-Madison in spring 2012, he added yet another dimension to the university’s renowned interdisciplinary group of faculty in environmental chemistry. This broad group includes a dozen or so faculty experts in environmental technology, and aquatic, terrestrial and air pollution chemistry.

Ginder-Vogel focuses on redox-active environments, or those in which chemical reactions cause an increase or decrease in oxidation state, to study processes that control the dynamics of nutrients and contaminants in environments like wetlands, estuaries and lake bottoms. “Most universities have one or two faculty members in environmental chemistry,” he says. “Here, I can focus on what I do best and collaborate with people who complement what I do.”

Drawing on a combination of field- and lab-based experiments and state-of-the-art microscopy and spectroscopy, his research has broad global—as well as local—applications. For example, he could study how to anticipate or control arsenic or chromium contamination of wells or waterways, assess the efficacy of stormwater retention ponds designed to mitigate nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into lakes and streams, or determine whether plutonium or uranium at a nuclear storage site will remain fixed or need to be removed.

In addition to an educational background that includes chemistry, geological and environmental sciences, and plant and soil sciences, Ginder-Vogel also worked as an environmental chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Most recently, he led the analytical and pilot cement plant teams at Calera Corporation, a California startup that focuses on reducing carbon dioxide in the environment by capturing it from industrial plants and converting it to carbonate cements and concrete.

Although the challenges he tackles and the solutions he develops can be extremely complex, Ginder-Vogel’s research, ultimately, is relevant to everyone. “The common theme is applying environmental chemistry to determine and control what ends up in our water, sediment and soils,” he says.

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