Wrightwood gets woodchip treatment right.

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I’m happy to share Olivia Wrightwood’s manuscript, which was recently published in Environmental Science & Technology – Water! Woodchip bioreactors are designed for nitrate removal from agricultural runoff. Olivia’s work evaluated the potential for pesticide removal in lab and field-scale woodchip reactors and aims more broadly to inform best management practices (BMPs) for in-field pesticide treatment. She used a combination of engineering strategies (designing and programming bioreactor controls), field skills (testing environmental conditions in an agricultural setting), and the scientific process (controlled kinetic batch studies) to investigate pesticide removal mechanisms and to ideate design strategies to improve pesticide removal. She found that removal of imidacloprid and diuron are driven by sorption to the woodchips, with a slight signature of microbial activity. She is now building on this work to promote microbial degradation of pesticides in field reactors by stimulating enzyme activity and enzymatic transformation of pesticides.

Olivia Wrightwood sampling in the woodchip bioreactor channels she studied for this project.
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Catching up with our public-facing COVID-19 wastewater research

You might say that quite a few things have happened since I last posted here nearly two years ago… these are tulmutuous times and COVID-19 has impacted each of us. As a mother of two joyful and energetic young kids, I felt the challenges of the work-life collision that occurred when the pandemic flipped our old normal upside-down in March 2020 (my kids were 2 and 4 years old at the time). Our resilient little people have grown together as siblings and weathered zoom-land like the best of ’em. As an Assistant Professor with a team conducting experimental research in the lab, I experienced the impacts of the  shutdown and the subsequent stages of safety overhalls on our group’s progress. My incredible research team has persisted through these setbacks and continue to be an amazing source of intellectual curiousity and inspiration.

The pandemic also opened up new avenues of collaboration and research for my team. In Summer 2020, we began a project to monitor SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater at UC Davis and subsequently with the City of Davis through the Healthy Davis Together initiative. Our work enables data-driven decision-making using wastewater infrastructure at city, neighborhood, and building scales. We use wastewater as a warning systeem and use geo-targeted community messaging systems to provide rapid and targeted information on COVID-19 trends from wastewater to the public. As a scientist and engineer focused on environmental health challenges (with an emphasis on viruses!), I am proud to be contributing to ongoing efforts to curb this virus and its impacts in our community.

Our wastewater monitoring project includes providing weekly updates to a public website to share results for wastewater monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 (https://healthydavistogether.org/wastewater-testing/), and I’ve spoken at various public and scientific forums like the UC Davis COVID Symposium (1/13/21).

We also developed a step-by-step guidance document for implementing wastewater monitoring in cities (available at: https://healthydavistogether.org/monitoring-wastewater-response/).

I’ve had a stint of interviews with local and national news sources, and our work in wastewater based epidemiology was highlighted in various media outlets. Some spotlights and quotes can be found in:



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Closing out the summer at UC Reserve Quail Ridge

Bischel group retreat (September 2019). From left: Jeanne Sabin, Olivia Wright, Hannah Safford, Madison Hattaway, and Wenting Li

September marks the end of another academic year and the beginning of the next. The past year has certainly been one of personal and professional growth for myself, and I imagine for our whole team. The Bischel group met together last week for an overnight research retreat at the Quail Ridge Research Reserve to reflect on the past and upcoming year, and to hang out. We lucked out with amazing weather and a beautiful view of Lake Berryessa.

This past year, I was excited to share results from our group’s hard work at various research meetings and events. I co-chaired a session on water quality monitoring at the North America SETAC meeting in Sacramento, which included presentations by Wenting on suspect screening of PFAS and by Hannah on virus detection by flow cytometry. I presented at the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) meeting in Arizona and the Bay Area WASH Symposium at UC Berkeley, sharing results from Dani Peguero’s MS thesis on treatment of fecal sludge and opportunities for insect production from sludge.  We’re excited for Dani, who plans to begin a PhD in Switzerland at ETH and Eawag. Sharing Olivia and Madison’s research on woodchip bioreactors, I presented at the California Environmental Protection Agency for the Department of Pesticide Regulation’s Best Management Practices (BMP) Symposium and research collaborators meetings. It has been a new experience for me to present work done by my students, and I’m honored to have such a fantastic team to work with!

Wenting Li and Heather Bischel with visiting undergraduate researcher, Rain Hu (middle), for her GREAT Program summer research (July 2019).

Several congratulations are also in order: Wenting and Olivia both received travel awards for their presentations at the Norther California section of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemsitry (SETAC). Congratulations to our summer undergraduate visiting research, Yuhong (Rain) Hu, who received the UC Davis GREAT Summer Research award for her protein docking simulations with perfluorinated chemicals. Congrats to Hannah, who received an American Water Works Association scholarship, and a 2nd place finish on Jeopardy! We’re excited for Jeanne who is preparing for project work in India, where she’ll exchange ideas and work on resource recovery projects with IIT Madras in the Winter quarter. Jeanne also launched Team AGUA (Adruino Graduate and Undergraduate Allstars) as a way to develop skills in electronics, water quality sensors, and controls. Under Jeanne’s guidance, the team developed a chlorine dosing demonstration unit that we will use this Fall in ECI 140A. In August, Olivia and Madison presented to a team of researchers, scientists and stakeholders at Moss Landing Marine Labs, garnering valuable feedback on their research.

Finally we bid farewell to a few of group members, and we’re excited to see where their life and work take them. Jacob Newman graduated and is working on his MS in Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley. Undergraduate research Jeil Oh returned to South Korea to finish up his studies. And we wish Kylie Bodle well in her next adventures working for a startup in Montana!


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Safford takes second in Jeopardy!

Hannah Safford rocked her performance on Jeopardy this week!  Congratulations Hannah!

Alex Trebek and Hannah Safford at the taping of her Jeopardy appearance in March 2019.

More coverage available from the Sacramento Bee: https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article232456282.html


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