Former PhD student wins international dissertation award

Two TU Delft researchers are on a winning streak for their accomplishments in water engineering. One of those researchers, Dr. Mari Winkler, received an award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors for her 2012 dissertation this past July16th.

The accolade, titled Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation, was presented to Winkler on the final day of the association’s 50th anniversary conference, which took place in Denver, Colorado. The Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, or AEESP, is an international society of science and engineering professors who commit to furthering the field of environmental protection. This year marks the first year that TU Delft participated. Dr. Winkler discovered a method in which bacteria could oxidize ammonia into nitrogen gas in water treatment plants at low temperatures. Prior to her work, this type of bacteria could only work efficiently at high temperatures, but the associated energy costs necessitated a more sustainable solution. Winkler’s solution makes use of the fact that when microorganisms coalesce into compact granules, they sink rapidly, which makes them easy to separate from the water. Thanks to Winkler’s work, this established process, which has been coined the Anammox process by TU Delft, may find its way into a less energy-hungry facility than the standard establishment. A pilot project is in development in Rotterdam. Professor Mark van Loosdrecht, of the Department of Environmental Biotechnology in the Faculty of Applied Sciences, guided Winkler’s research work and shares the award with her. Moreover, this year, he was named the 2013 AEESP Foundation Distinguished Lecturer. Last year also proved to be a red-letter year for the research team. In May 2012, Winkler won the Huber Technology Prize at Munich’s International Water Management Trade Fair. Dr. Van Loosdrecht won the Lee Kuan Yew Prize for related work last July.

When Van Loosdrecht visited the University of British Columbia a few years ago, Winkler was a master’s student in one of his colleague’s labs. After working for a while in her native Germany, she sent him an email, asking on the off chance if he had a PhD position available. “I just met her once. But she struck me as a motivated person for having worked in industry and really wanted to do a PhD,” he remembered. “So that was a good sign.” In the end, he created a spot for her. Winkler is now a post-doctoral candidate at Ghent University. (TA)

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