Focus Area: Enviromental Engineering

The research focus regarding the Environmental Engineering initiative of VCASE relates to understanding and treating sources of contamination (i.e. pathogens, excess nutrients and metals) that result from the built environment. The overall goal of this initiative is to provide the knowledge and mechanisms required for contaminant abatement as it pertains to sustainable development.


Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology (EMB) Laboratory

Research in the applied microbiology area as it relates to environmental engineering is conducted in the Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology Laboratory. Specific interests are public health microbiology and biological processes. Recently, the laboratory established a strong infrastructure to incorporate several molecular biology tools; such as, CR, FAME, and gel electrophoresis into its research projects, particularly in the microbial source tracking and the microbial community structure and function analysis areas.

Environmental Interfacial Chemistry (EIC) Laboratory 

Dr. Xu’s research interest builds upon the fundamental understanding of environmental interfacial chemistry, with the goal of applying them to both natural and engineered systems to address today’s environmental challenges. Dr. Xu and her students at the Environmental Interfacial Chemistry (EIC) Group are actively engaged in research and education, with the ultimate goal of transforming fundamental environmental interfacial chemistry knowledge into providing solutions for safe drinking water, nutrient recovery, and mitigating climate change. 

The EIC group, led by Dr. Wenqing Xu, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, was established in the fall of 2014. Below is a list of ongoing projects:

  • Engineering sorbent surfaces for contaminant destruction
  • Engineering interface for nutrient recovery
  • Mitigating climate change using biochars
  • Evaluating N-DBPs (Disinfection By-Products) formation potential from impaired water sources

Analytical Laboratory

Analytical Laboratory is typically used for research related to all areas of environmental engineering where complex and highly sensitive analytical techniques and instrument are required. The equipment inventory in the Analytical Laboratory includes: one Agilent gas chromatograph with mass spectrophotometer detector (GC/MS) with ion and electron ionization capabilities; 2 Agilent 6890 gas chromatographs with flame ionization, thermal conductivity, and electron capture detectors; one Dionex DX-600 IC/HPLC with electrochemical, photodiode array, and quadruple mass spectrophotometer detectors; Pectronic Genesys 5 variable wavelength scanning UV/Vis spectrophotometer.

Core Genomics Laboratory

National Science Foundation sponsored Core Genomics Laboratory for Teaching and Research in Biotechnology houses state-of-the-art genomics instrumentation including an Applied Biosystems 7300 TF real-time PCR system for q-PCR work; a Smidzu BioSpec-mini UV-Vis spectrophotometer and a NanodropTM optimized for rapid quantification of RNA, DNA, and proteins; two Lieca epifluorescent microscope equipped with high speed and cooled camera and image analysis software; an Eppendorf 5417R refrigerated high-speed mini centrifuge; a Milli-Q Biocell water purification system that supplies RNAase free water; a Beckman-Coulter Vi-CELL™ cell viability analyzer; a Shimadzu HPLC with UV-Vis detector; a sonicator for cell lysis; an ultra freezer (-85 oC); a basic freezer (-20 oC); and a crushed ice maker.

The Water Resources Teaching and Research Laboratory (WRTRL)

WRTRL houses analytical equipment for analysis of metals and nutrients. Equipment includes an Easy Chem Plus Auto Analyzer, a PE AAnalyst 800 Furnace and Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometer, a HACH DR/4000 Spectrophotometer as well as general equipment for water quality analysis such as pH meters, dissolved oxygen meters, chemical hoods, balances, and ovens.

External/ Internal Relationships

Research projects in the environmental engineering focus area have been sponsored by industry (Organica Inc., American Refining and Biochemical, Brown and Caldwell), local (Philadelphia Water Department), state (PA Department of Environmental Protection, Ben Franklin Technology Partners), and federal government agencies (EPA, NSF, US Geological Survey). In addition, the group have collaborated with local non-profit organizations, such as Chester, Ridley, Crum (CRC) Watershed Association to address local environmental challenges.

Representative Publications

Taskin, B., Gozen, A.G., Duran, M. (2011). “Selective quantification of viable Escherichia coli in biosolids by quantitative PCR with propidium monoazide modification.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 77(13):4329-4335.

Shuai, D., Chaplin, B.P., Shapley, J.R., Menendez, N.P., McCalman, D.C., Schneider, W.F., Werth, C.J. (2010). “Enhancement of oxyanion and diatrizoate reduction kinetics using selected azo dyes on Pd-based catalysts.” Environmental Science and Technology, 44(5), 1773-1779.

Lefkowitz, J.R., Duran, M. (2009). “Changes in antibiotic resistance patterns of Escherichia coli during domestic wastewater treatment.” Water Environment Research, 81(9):878-885.

Moon, H. S., Komlos, J., and Jaffé, P. R. (2009). Biogenic U(IV) oxidation by dissolved oxygen and nitrate in sediment after prolonged U(VI)/Fe(III)/SO42− reduction. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 105(1–2), 18-27.

Komlos, J., Moon, H.S., and Jaffé, P. R.. (2008). Effect of sulfate on the simultaneous bioreduction of Iron and Uranium." Journal of Environmental Quality, 37(6), 2058-2062;


Dr. Duran training graduate students in the Core Genomic Lab
PhD Candidate Sevda Alanya storing her RNA samples in the ultra freezer (-80 oC)
Members of the EMB Laboratory collecting field data at the NEWPCP, wastewater treatment, plant in Philadelphia.
EMB Laboratory members at the NEWPCP sludge pumping station.
Aeration basins at the NEWPCP.
Dr. Duran and PhD candidate Sevda Alanya separating DNA from cell lysing matrix.
PhD candidate Sevda Alanya and senior Lauren Glose quantifying DNA in their samples.
Coliform growth plates as part of the junior level Environmental Engineering Laboratory course.
Isolation of E. coli for the Goose Creek microbial source tracking project.


Metin Duran, Ph.D. - Lead

Wenqing Xu, Ph.D. - Alt Lead