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Cullen College Professor Honored for Work in Nanomaterials

By: 

Jeannie Kever

Debora Rodrigues, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, has received the Emerging Investigator award from the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization (SNO).

Rodrigues has worked with nanomaterials since arriving at UH in 2010, using the technology to develop new methods for water purification and treatment. In addition to her research, she was recognized for her work with students and her outreach to other educators.

This was the first year for the award. Vicki Grassian, editor-in-chief of the journal Environmental Science, said Rodrigues was selected for her pioneering and outstanding contributions to the field of sustainable nanotechnology, including nanotoxicology and applications of nanotechnology in water remediation.

The award was announced at the conclusion of a SNO conference in Boston earlier this month.    

Rodrigues said she wasn’t expecting the honor, but it wasn’t her first. She received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award in 2011. That award, worth up to $450,000 over a five-year period, is given to promising junior faculty to help launch successful research and educational careers.

By then, Rodrigues was serving as co-principal investigator on another NSF grant, this one was aimed at offering middle and high school teachers an opportunity to spend their summers assisting in nanotechnology-related research projects conducted by faculty in UH’s Cullen College of Engineering. This project received the U.S. President’s Community Service Award in 2013. She also has mentored high school students to encourage them to enter engineering or other science fields.

Her twin passions of education and research came together this spring when a team of UH entrepreneurship students developed a business plan based on a technology Rodrigues created – a nanocomposite coating used for water purification, capable of removing heavy metals, radioactive materials and micro-organisms – and took it to competitions around the country, winning several before forming a startup business.

Rodrigues now serves as an advisor to the company, WAVVE, while continuing her research.

She said the Emerging Investigator award, which included a cash award and a plaque, isn’t really just about her.

“It is for my whole research group,” she said. “It means we are making a difference. We are getting recognized.”

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