Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology
The Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology manages microbial communities that provide services to society. Most of the services make our society more environmentally sustainable: e.g., generating renewable energy, and making polluted water and soil clean. The microbial services also make humans healthier – directly and indirectly.
Research in the Swette Center seeks to gain deep understanding of the microorganisms and how they work together in microbial communities. The researchers apply the most advanced tools of molecular microbial ecology, chemistry, microscopy, and mathematical modeling so they think like the microorganisms. Armed with this deep understanding, the researchers then apply advanced engineering methods to create systems that work for the microorganisms so that they work for us. This approach establishes a win-win partnership between the uniquely talented workers – the microorganisms – and the wise managers – the environmental biotechnologists.
Partnering is not just with microorganisms. The Swette Center is famous for its culture of cross-disciplinary and team-base research. This culture begins with our diverse set of researchers who come from many disciplines within engineering, life sciences, chemistry, and more. For example, graduate students join the Center from eight Ph.D. programs on the ASU campus: three in engineering (environmental, chemical, and biomedical), three science disciplines (microbiology, environmental life sciences, and chemistry/biochemistry), and two inherently inter-disciplinary programs (sustainability and biological design). The Center organizes it research through collaborative teams. Some teams are applications based, such as microbial electrochemical cells, photobioenergy, and bioremediation. Other teams are more methods based, such as mathematical modeling and molecular microbial ecology. Please learn more from the links to our research groups. What is very important about our teams is that they interact extensively. Researchers often are on more than one team, and several teams usually work together to form a hyper-team for a research project.
Partnering extends far outside the Swette Center. Our projects regularly involve ASU faculty and students in Microbiology, Sustainability, Chemistry/Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Geotechnical Engineering. We have collaborations with universities throughout the United States and abroad. These collaborations involve joint projects and hosting many visiting scholars. For example, our current and recent visiting scholars are from Spain, France, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, Korea, Brazil, and Mexico.
One more hallmark of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology is that we link fundamental research with practical application. In short, we always work to make research meet practice. The first part of our strategy for making research meet practice is that we design our research projects so that they address mechanistic fundamentals that are going to have the biggest impact on an application’s success. Practical experience informs the directions of fundamental research, while mechanistic results directly improve process design and operation. The second part of our strategy is that we partner with key practitioners, the ones who will put the fruits of our research to good use. We have on-going partnerships with the leading environmental engineering consulting firms, such as CDM-Smith and CH2M-HILL. Likewise, we work closely with technology companies to test and commercialize systems based on our research work. Good examples include our spin-out company ARBsource, as well as APTwater, OpenCEL, and Siemens Water Technology.