(Alexandria, VA) – On Tuesday October 3, 2017, during WEFTEC in Chicago, IL, the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) awarded Shaily Mahendra, Ph.D., with the 2017 Paul L. Busch Award. With the $100,000 prize, Dr. Mahendra proposes to encapsulate enzymes in nanoparticle cages called vaults. Ultimately, if one or more enzymes involved in biodegradation of multiple co-contaminants are packaged inside vaults, such vaults can potentially be a “one stop shop” for removing a suite of water contaminants.
Dr. Mahendra is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Samueli Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles. The Award Selection Committee members were impressed with Dr. Mahendra’s vision to apply a technology already tested for environmental remediation and medical purposes at the water facility level. Among her many distinguished recognitions, Dr. Mahendra has received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, DuPont Young Professor Award, Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award, Hellman Fellowship, Poptech Science and Public Leadership Fellowship, and Environmental Science & Technology Excellence in Review Award. In support of her nomination, Dr. Michael K. Stenstrom, Ph.D., P.E., Distinguished Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UCLA, a former chief editor of Water Environment Research, and a two-time winner of the Eddy applied research prize, stated “I can think of no better candidate for the Paul L. Busch Award than Dr. Mahendra.”
Enzymes are mostly proteins that mediate nearly all the biochemical reactions in living cells. Currently, they are applied for removing petroleum hydrocarbons, industrial solvents, metals, dyes, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and disinfection by-products from water. Because these enzymes are not stable, they must continuously be replaced, which is time consuming and prohibitively expensive. With support from the Paul L. Busch Award, Dr. Mahendra will pioneer the expansion of vault applications from the biomedical field to the environmental field. The Paul L. Busch Award will support research building upon biodegradation studies in the Mahendra laboratory and collaborations with Professor Leonard Rome in the UCLA medical school and Vault Nano, Inc. to produce large quantities of vault enzyme prototypes for scaling up and deployment in water treatment and reuse systems. This high-risk, high-reward work will be a novel and sustainable approach for translating enzymatic catalysis from the laboratory into practical engineering applications.
Of special note, this year, the award was presented by Lisa Busch, the daughter of Paul L. Busch. WE&RF honors Paul L. Busch, Ph.D., with this award because he so completely embodied the spirit of creativity, visionary thinking, and practical application of scientific research – a spirit that is essential to passing on a clean-water environment to future generations. Ms. Busch traveled from Sitka, Alaska, to present the award on WE&RF’s behalf. Since 2001, the Endowment for Innovation in Applied Water Quality Research has supported the Paul L. Busch Award, providing more than $1.5 million in funding to up-and-coming researchers who are making major breakthroughs in the water quality industry. From energy-producing wastewater to next-generation membrane treatment, the Endowment has been there to fund this important research, pushing ideas on the brink of discovery forward. More information is available at www.werf.org/PaulBusch.