Webb and Scherer Receive Prestigious AEESP Awards for Research Papers Separated by 25 Years

by Margot Dick

Michelle, Danielle, and Greg

Michelle (left), Danielle, and Greg (right)

From graduate Danielle Webb (PhD, 2021) to Michelle Scherer, professor of civil and environmental engineering and a researcher with 24 years of experience at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering (IIHR), the institute was well represented at this year’s AEESP Awards.

The Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professors (AEESP) presents awards for outstanding achievement in environmental engineering and science annually. IIHR had the honor of two papers represented as awardees at the 2022 event for excellence in the field.

The two winning papers each represent outstanding research and dedication to environmental engineering and the impact of their research on the environment. While their subject matter differed drastically, the researchers both had a focus on water quality, and the dangers of contaminants in the home.

Danielle Webb, an Iowa alumna, received the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for her dissertation in 2021. Her work centered around neonicotinoid insecticides and their presence in drinking water. Webb worked with her advisor Greg LeFevre, also faculty in civil and environmental engineering and IIHR research engineer, whose ongoing research on neonicotinoids at local drinking water treatment plants led to Webb’s research topic.

As her advisor, LeFevre said Webb’s award is the most meaningful he has been involved in.

“I received it also in 2013, and it made my advisor super proud. It’s amazing to close the circle in less than a decade,” LeFevre says.

Scherer's team of scientists pose for a photo in lab coats

Scherer’s lab

IIHR was also represented by Michelle Scherer, who published her paper while she was still a grad student at Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology in 1996. Twenty-six years later, her research is part of the foundation of iron metal reactive barriers, which filter groundwater before it reaches aquifers. She is continuing on the same path today at IIHR.

Scherer says she appreciates the effort the AEESP puts into finding papers that have a continued impact on the field decades later.

“When I was working on this paper with my colleague at the time, fellow student Tim Johnson, and with Paul Tratnyek, I never had any idea of the influence this paper would have,” Scherer says. “I think this is a good example for students now, working on papers. At the time, I thought I was in the weeds. At times I hated it, at times I loved it. It was really challenging, yet it has really made a difference.”

Scherer’s paper received the 2022 AEESP Outstanding Publication Award for her team’s research into a water-cleaning approach that targets the rate of contaminant clean up. While her work was on iron reactions and dry-cleaning fluid, the paper has broader implications for water clean up.

Both Webb and Scherer say they appreciate their time at Iowa and the connections they made along the way. Webb now works as an analytical chemist in St. Paul, Minnesota and says she misses the research she used to do at the university. Scherer, still at Iowa, reflected on colleagues and how they influenced her career.

Michelle Scherer and Rich Valentine sit at the bottom of a set of stairs

Scherer and Valentine posed for a photo together at his retirement party.

“One of the previous winners of this was Rich Valentine… who is a hero of mine and was a professor here for 30 years and was one of the reasons I came here,” Scherer says. “I think it really speaks to the level of expertise here at the University of Iowa in environmental engineering.”