IIHR Student Hui Zhi Wins IWC Grant Competition

June 21, 2019

by Sarah Feehan, Iowa Water Center

IIHR graduate student Hui Zhi.

IIHR graduate student Hui Zhi has been selected to receive a grant from the Iowa Water Center to fund her research on sorption and biodegradation of pharmaceuticals in Iowa’s water. She is one of three graduate students from across Iowa to receive funding through the IWC’s statewide Graduate Student Research Competition.

The funding enables graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Zhi’s proposed research project is titled “Quantifying Differential Sorption and Biodegradation of Pharmaceuticals in a Wastewater Effluent-Dominated Stream in Iowa.”

Zhi hopes her research will lead to a better understanding of the fate and transformation of pharmaceuticals in surface water. “It’s important we understand what’s in our drinking water, what’s in the treated wastewater, and what’s in the streams and rivers. And, how they change spatially and temporally,” Zhi says.

“Water resources research institutes like the Iowa Water Center were authorized by Congress in part to address emerging water resources concerns through research,” IWC Associate Director Melissa Miller says. “The fate and transport of pharmaceuticals in our water is of critical interest to both the state and region, and we look forward to sharing the results of Ms. Zhi’s work.”

Get to Know Hui Zhi, PhD Candidate at the University of Iowa

Typically, Zhi wakes up at around 6:30 am and makes herself breakfast and a cup of black coffee. Once at her office, she checks emails and reads journal article updates.

One early morning in her office, Zhi received an email about the IWC’s grant competition. “It caught my eye,” Zhi says, and she was inspired to apply. She spoke to her advisor about the competition, and he encouraged her to submit a proposal.

The grant will allow Zhi to conduct a one-year study that employs both field and laboratory research approaches.

“I really enjoy working in the lab and look forward to getting the results,” Zhi says.

She grew up in China, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in an environmental science program at China Pharmaceutical University.

The environmental crisis in China influenced Zhi to continue school and to focus on environmental engineering. She decided to continue her studies here in the United States, which Zhi believes has the best programs in the world for environmental engineering.

She received a master’s degree at Cornell University and is now a PhD candidate at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa. Her anticipated completion year is 2020.

Zhi hopes her research will help people better understand the behaviors of pharmaceutical mixtures in the water and their associated ecological impacts.

She explains, “The results will be able to help the right people, whoever is responsible for our water policy regulations, set in place science-based water-quality regulations for pharmaceuticals. Regulations not just for our drinking water, but also in the treated wastewater that is discharged into our environment. Hopefully then, we will have a cleaner water environment.”

Rather than focusing solely on the quality of our drinking water, Zhi thinks knowing what’s going on in all our water systems, such as streams and rivers, is vital to a healthy environment.

Pharmaceuticals can have impacts on many aquatic species, such as fish, living in the water. If pharmaceuticals are accumulating in fish and people are eating these fish, the accumulation of pharmaceuticals ends up in human bodies.

Therefore, not only are we drinking pharmaceuticals, but we are also eating fish that have been accumulating pharmaceuticals over time. “People need to know what’s happening in the streams nearby that they’re swimming in and also in the waters their fish are found because there are potential impacts on the human body that we don’t clearly know yet,” Zhi says.

To help prevent research burnout, Zhi enjoys exercisr. “Whether it’s cardio, yoga, boxing, rock climbing, or swimming, I love it. All these different sports help relieve any pressure from research, and I have a lot of fun doing them,” Zhi says.

For more information about this year’s recipients, please visit https://iawatercenter.wordpress.com/. To read about all four recipients, please visit: http://www.water.iastate.edu/news/iowa-water-center-announces-2019-grant….

The Iowa Water Center is a federally funded organization, part of the National Institutes for Water Resources. Located on the Iowa State University campus, it is one of 54 institutes located throughout the United States and U.S. territories. The purpose of the Iowa Water Center is to identify water-related research needs, provide outreach and education opportunities, and disseminate information about Iowa’s water resources to the public to form better policies and everyday practices. Learn more at https://www.water.iastate.edu.