Prize Council Announces Winners for the 5th Award

5th_award4thmeeting_psipwWith the conclusion of the 5th Award (2012), the Prize Council convened to review the achievements of the past two years and confirm the winners for the 5th Award.

The meeting, which was held in Riyadh on 27 September, was presided over by PSIPW Council chairman, HRH Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz – Saudi Arabia's Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General for Military Affairs.

At the meeting, the Prize Council expressed its pleasure that two of the five Prizes given for the current award recognize research relating in different but complementary ways to one of the greatest problems currently facing the water supply: the arsenic contamination of groundwater. This problem threatens the lives of millions of people around the world. The Groundwater Prize is awarded to Dr. Charles Harvey’s team at MIT for solving the puzzle of how and why this arsenic contamination is taking place, particularly in Bangladesh, and for providing initial answers as to what can be done to prevent it. The Creativity Prize is being awarded to Dr. Ashok Gadgil’s team at UC  Berkley for developing an economical and effective way to treat arsenic contamination and restore the groundwater supply to potability for millions of poor people around the globe. Together, these achievements promise to save countless lives.

Nominations are now open for the 6th Award. Nominations can be made for all five Prizes directly through the PSIPW website.

Winners for the 5th Award (2012)

gadgil187x217Creativity Prize: The team led by Dr. Ashok Gadgil (University of California Berkley, USA ).

The prize is awarded to Dr. Gadgil and his team of researchers for developing an innovative and effective method of treating the arsenic contamination of groundwater using electrocoagulation.

The team led by Dr. Ashok Gadgil has produced an exemplary work of fundamental and applied science which runs the complete course from initial research to functioning prototype, while addressing one of the most serious drinking water problems confronting the human population in developing countries.

Suffice it to say that 1 in 5 of all adult deaths in Bangladesh are presently due to chronic arsenic poisoning.

Arsenic pollution of groundwater is a widespread problem in the deltaic sediments around the globe. Millions of people suffer from latent arsenic poisoning, culminating in many dangerous diseases, including cancer.  There has long been a need for a simple and inexpensive method of treating arsenic contaminated water, which will save millions of people from arsenic poisoning and related health problems.

The possible impact of the method developed by the group – the best and most cost-effective method available to date – is huge. Even though the group’s research draws on a previously known electrocoagulation process, its scientific and practical value is high. It is not sufficient to just establish that electrochemical reactions can precipitate arsenic. It is equally important to establish the stability of the precipitate and its behaviour under different electrolysis conditions and with other ions present. The team has carried out this evaluation in a careful and comprehensive way using advanced synchrotron-based X-ray characterization techniques (EXAFS). They have also considered the disposal of wastes. They have exhibited creativity by transforming this scientific knowledge successfully into an easy-to-understand and easy-to-operate, locally affordable technology.

Finally, the analysis of societal implementation is convincing, going for a community approach rather than an individual application in each household. This excludes errors in operation and guarantees achieving economies of scale. The required voltage of 3 V can be provided by photovoltaic cells. The estimated price of safe groundwater at 4 US cents per 10 litres is comparatively low and acceptable even for the very poor.

Team members are:

Dr. Susan Addy, UCB
Dr. Robert Kostecki, LBNL
Professor Joyashree Roy, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
Case van Genuchten, UCB

trenberth187x217Surface Water Prize: The team led by Dr. Kevin Trenberth (National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA).

The prize is awarded to Dr. Trenberth and his team, which includes Dr. Aiguo Dai, for ground-breaking work that provides a powerful estimate of the effects of climate change on the global hydrological cycle, with a clear explanation of the global water budget.

If we are going to talk about hydrology in the 21st century, and the challenges hydrologists face, clearly the overwhelming challenge is to understand hydrologic variability, and the likely impact on hydrology of anticipated climate change.  Dr. Kevin Trenberth and his team have made a unique contribution through the investigation of climate variability and trends in the past, and through the use of models and other creative efforts to reconstruct river discharge into the oceans across the planet for almost 1000 river basins. They use climate models to understand likely changes in the future and the uncertainty associated with those predictions, and explain their findings using such popular indicates as the Palmer drought index. As a result, they have provided an exemplary account of the global water budget that is being used in textbooks and encyclopedias.

They have made pioneering contributions to understanding the past with real data, and evaluating the future prospects within the context of what we know of the global climate and hydrology. They have provided a much better understanding of hydrologic responses to climate change, which in turn will provide tremendous guidance for future planning.


harvey187x217Groundwater Prize: The team led by Dr. Charles Franklin Harvey (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA).

The prize is awarded to Dr. Harvey and his team, which includes Dr. Abu Borhan Mohammad Badruzzaman, for developing a complete diagnostic and conceptual model for understanding and preventing the arsenic contamination of groundwater.

Dr. Harvey and his team have followed one of the most important groundwater contamination cases known, the arsenic contamination of the groundwater in the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh. This contamination was recognized some 20 years ago, and Harvey and his group began early on to investigate the case. His specific, original approach soon made clear that dissolved organic carbon was one of the main causes, and he started to address the carbon sources. Step by step, his research led to a more and more complex view of the mobilization to the deposition of arsenic in a complex aquifer system, influenced by different land use activities, like rice field irrigation and sewage disposal. At each step, his investigation led to more and more detail, solving part of the puzzle and raising more detailed questions, which in turn led to further, more detailed research.

Dr. Harvey and his group give an excellent example of the application of scientific methods to solve a specific problem, following the issue for more than 10 years until arriving at a plausible, yet stunning result, which not only answers a major puzzle in groundwater hydrology, but which more generally demonstrates that complex natural systems can be understood.

souhaimi187x217dAlternative Water Resources Prize: Dr. Mohamed Khayet Souhaimi (University Complutense of Madrid, Spain).

The prize is awarded to Dr. Khayet for his work in pioneering and promoting membrane distillation for water recovery using alternative renewable energy sources.

Dr. Khayet is at the forefront of promoting membrane distillation, a process that is relevant both for water recovery from alternative sources (not only seawater but also concentrates from industrial production)  as well as for energy-friendly separation processes (membrane distillation can be used with waste heat, for example). His work is not only novel, but also very creative and even visionary since he was one of the pioneers in this process that has now gained worldwide interest.

The practicality and implementation value of Dr. Khayet’s research is equally high.  The process that he has studied and promoted in all its theoretical and experimental aspects (from membrane synthesis to implementation) has now been scaled up and is being used for large-scale applications in Singapore and elsewhere. In many other countries, plans for using this or related processes are mushrooming.

barcelo187x217Water Management & Protection Prize: Dr. Damia Barcelo (Catalan Institute for Water Research, Spain).

The prize is awarded to Dr. Barcelo for work at the leading edge of water science in understanding the effect of pharmaceuticals in the water environment, developing new methods for future risk assessment and management of emerging contaminants, and the investigation of water quality in intensively-used basins.

Dr. Barcelo’s research demonstrates that a broad spectrum of pharmaceuticals are widespread pollutants in aquatic environments and shows that wastewater treatment plant outlets are major contributors to the problem. At the same time, his work shows how the final treatment steps in treatment plants can considerably reduce the load of pharmaceuticals pollutants in outlets prior to their release, paving the way for more effective treatment processes to control the adverse impact of pharmaceutical pollutants.

Using novel approaches, he was also able to demonstrate the presence of several pharmaceuticals, including ibuprofen, ketoprofen, diclofenac, ofloxacin and azithromycin in sewage sludge, revealing that some pharmaceutical compounds are not removed or are poorly removed by conventional activated sludge wastewater treatment.

Using new analytical approaches for nanotechnologies residues assessment capable of achieving sensitivities in the low ng/L range, Dr. Barcelo was the first to report on the occurrence of fullerenes in suspended solids of wastewater effluents.

His research has far-reaching applications, extending beyond water management. In one pioneering study, Dr. Barcelo, for the first time, reported on the widespread occurrence of compounds such as cocaine, benzoylecgonine, ephedrine and ecstasy residues along the Ebro River basin (NE Spain). By evaluating the contribution of sewage treatment plants (STPs) effluents to the presence of these chemicals in natural surface waters, he was able to back calculate drug usage at the community level in the main urban areas of the investigated river basin. This unique forensic approach provided an extrapolation of the consumption data for the area studied, and exposed a total annual consumption of illegal drugs in the order of 36 tons, which would translate into 1100 million Euros on the black market.

These studies are at the leading edge of their field and contribute significantly to our understanding of pharmaceuticals in the water environment, their impact and potential management strategies.

The awards ceremony will be held in Riyadh on 6 January 2013, concurrently with the 5th International Conference on Water Resources and Arid Environments (ICWRAE 5), which will run from 7-9 January 2013.