Arup K. SenGupta, who has devoted his career to cleaning toxic substances from groundwater and wastewater, has been chosen to receive a lifetime achievement award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).
SenGupta, the P.C. Rossin Professor of civil and environmental engineering and also of chemical engineering, will receive the 2009 Lawrence K. Cecil Award in environmental chemical engineering on Nov. 9 in Nashville, Tenn., at AIChE’s annual meeting. AIChE is the world's leading organization for chemical engineering professionals, with more than 40,000 members in 93 countries.
The Cecil Award, the highest honor bestowed by the institute, recognizes an individual’s "outstanding chemical engineering contribution and achievement in the preservation or improvement of the environment." SenGupta is being specifically cited for applying ion exchange science and technology to mitigate environmental hazards in the developed and developing world.
In addition to the award, SenGupta will deliver the Cecil lecture, which he has titled "Hybrid Ion Exchange in Environmental Separation: From Decontamination to Desalination."
A collective endeavor
SenGupta said he was gratified to receive the award, but emphasized that the honor was more than an individual achievement.
"Needless to say, I am immensely thankful to all of my graduate and undergraduate students, and also to the postdoctoral researchers who have worked with me. Without their collective contribution, this award would not have been possible."
SenGupta, who joined the faculty in 1985, applies the principles of ion exchange and physical chemistry to solve a wide variety of environmental challenges.
In 1994, he was awarded a U.S. patent for a process that removes aluminum sulfate from sludge and enables it to be reused as a coagulant in a water treatment plant. He holds a total of five U.S. patents, with three more pending.
In 1998, he was one of 11 U.S. researchers to receive an Industrial Ecology Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation and the Lucent Technologies Foundation. He was selected for a project that allows selective aluminum recovery by ion exchange in water-treatment plants.
Making water safe to drink
In the past 15 years, SenGupta and his students have worked with India’s Bengal Engineering and Science University to install more than 200 arsenic-removal systems
in the remote villages of Eastern India near Bangladesh. The systems use a hybrid anion exchanger that disperses iron nanoparticles throughout a polymer-based bead; the nanoparticles selectively adsorb arsenic and other contaminants from groundwater used for drinking. The systems have succeeded in reducing arsenic levels in drinking water from 100 to 500 parts per billion to well below the 50-ppb limit set by the Indian government.
An estimated 100 million people in Eastern India and Bangladesh rely on groundwater containing toxic levels of arsenic. The World Health Organization has called the situation the "largest mass poisoning of a population in history." SenGupta and his former graduate student, Luis Cumbal, have received a patent for the hybrid anion exchanger, which has been commercialized and is now also being used across the U.S. and in half a dozen other countries to remove arsenic from groundwater. Cumbal, who received a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Lehigh, is now professor and director of graduate studies at the Army Engineering Polytechnic School in Quito, Ecuador.
SenGupta and his students and colleagues have received several national and international awards for their work in arsenic remediation. In 2007, the team received the Silver Award
in the National Academy of Engineering’s Grainger Challenge for Sustainability. That same year, SenGupta and his students won a $75,000 award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) competition for a project involving the safe disposal of sludge containing high levels of arsenic.
In 2008, the American Society of Civil Engineers cited SenGupta’s work with arsenic as one of the top five Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement projects.
Earlier this year, the Association of University Technology Managers featured SenGupta's arsenic project
and 22 others in its "Better World Report 2009: Innovations from Academic Research That Positively Impact Global Health."
SenGupta is also the recipient of the 2004 International Ion Exchange Award at Cambridge University from the United Kingdom’s Society of Chemical Industry and the 2001 Frontier Research Award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors.
Recently, SenGupta has begun to investigate the potential application of ion exchange science to the sequestration of carbon dioxide and the energy-efficient desalination of water.
SenGupta was the editor of Reactive and Functional Polymers, a journal published by Elsevier Co., from 1996 to 2006. He served as chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering from 1998 to 2005, and took the lead in establishing Lehigh’s new B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in environmental engineering.