eNews May 2020

Meet the Researcher, Yanyan Zhang, Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for meet the researcher we are profiling Yanyan Zhang, who is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at New Mexico State University (NMSU). She instructs several advanced-level courses, including Environmental Engineering Design, Unit Processes/Operation of Wastewater Treatment, and Advanced Water Treatment and Reuse. Presently, Yanyan is supervising one master’s student, and two PhD students at NMSU with a total of ten higher-education students being mentored throughout her career. According to Yanyan, one of the most significant aspects of her position involves all the readily available opportunities to make a difference in water-related problems, which are critical to the environment and human health.

Zhang earned her BS (2005) and MS (2008) in Environmental Engineering as well as a BBA in Business Administration (2005) from Beijing Normal University (BNU). Her master’s thesis was entitled, Study of micro-ecology analysis methods based on yeast microaerobic process.  She obtained her PhD in 2012 from the University of Missouri (UM) in Columbia, Missouri. Her dissertation was entitled, Determination of low bacterial and viral concentrations in water and selective removal of pathogenic bacteria in water filtration systems.

Yanyan was hired as a research assistant at BNU for the School of Environment in 2005, and maintained her position at UM in 2008 for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). She transferred to the University of Alberta in 2013, where she became a postdoctoral fellow for CEE. Yanyan has been in her current position at NMSU since 2016.

With the assistance of her research team, Yanyan is actively working on two research projects; one being funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the other by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI). She is the PI on the NIH project entitled, Resistance and Virulence of Surviving Bacteria in Water after Various Disinfection Processes, which seeks to discover any alterations of bacterial community before and after various disinfection processes in order to develop new disinfection strategies. Zhang is serving as a co-PI for the NM WRRI project entitled, Characterization of Produced Water in the Permian Basin for Potential Beneficial use, which is part of an overarching university collaboration known as the New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project. This cooperative research opportunity seeks to conduct comprehensive assessment of produced water quality in the Permian Basin for its safe use and achieve a better understanding of the potential impacts of produced water on public health and environment. Yanyan is specifically developing an effective toxicological tool to rapid screen produced water to detect any potential risks.

Zhang’s other research interests include pathogen detection and inactivation, integrated biochemical and physicochemical treatment systems, and control of antibiotic resistance in water. She has demonstrated her expertise in these areas by performing extensive experiments on the toxicity of silver and zinc oxide nanoparticles on bacteria and viruses, engineering biological processes for municipal and oil industry water treatment, removing biofilm from drinking water, and other widespread research.

Two of Yanyan’s students (Xiaoxiao Cheng, and Lei Hu) were funded by NM WRRI under the Student Water Research Grant Program in 2018. Their projects were entitled, Developing new strategies to mitigate antimicrobial resistance for safe water reuse, and Recovery of Ammonium and Magnesium from Produced Water by Struvite Precipitation.  As a result of these projects, two peer-reviewed articles were published on their research in 2020 for Science of The Total Environment, and Chemical Engineering Journal, respectively.

At this time, Yanyan has 56 peer-reviewed journal articles with seven of them being published just this year. Her most recent studies were published in Water Research, Science of The Total Environment, Algal Research, Frontiers in Microbiology, and Chemical Engineering Journal. Zhang has been an invited reviewer of over 80 manuscripts for 25 different journals.

Yanyan has had the opportunity to present her research in several states, and has participated in many international conferences and workshops held in Beijing, Shanghai, and Alberta. Zhang holds professional memberships to the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta, the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, and the American society for Microbiology. On the NMSU campus, Yanyan serves as faculty advisor for the Chi Epsilon student chapter, and also contributes as a Strategic Planning Committee member for her department, and to the Distinguished Lecture Series Committee. She has similarly been an active member of her community by developing scientific programs aimed at providing children with the chance to learn more about water and wastewater treatment, and by supporting the recruitment of female students for programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Zhang stated that one of her long-term goals is to establish and maintain an interdisciplinary research team at NMSU to develop effective approaches to reduce the risks in reclaimed water, and observe its safe reuse in different applications. Her efforts in this endeavor involve her active research projects and her successful outreach connections. According to Yanyan, she will continue striving to work in the field of produced water treatment and reuse due to the rapid development of unconventional shale in the oil and gas industry. She strongly feels her research of waterborne pathogens and wastewater epidemiology is especially very important at this time, and will diligently continue her efforts in those fields of study.