Headlines at Hopkins: news releases from across the 
university Headlines
News by Topic: news releases organized by subject News by Topic
News by School: news releases organized by the 
university's 9 schools & divisions News by School
Events Open to the Public (campus-wide) Events Open
to the Public
Blue Jay Sports: Hopkins Athletic Center Blue Jay Sports
Search News Site Search the Site

Contacting the News Staff: directory of university 
press officers Contacting
News Staff
Receive News Via Email (listservs) Receive News
Via Email
Resources for Journalists Resources for Journalists

Faculty Experts: searchable resource organized by 
topic Faculty Experts
Faculty and Administrator Photos Faculty and
Faculty with Homepages Faculty with Homepages
Hopkins in the News: news clips about Hopkins Hopkins in
the News

JHUNIVERSE Homepage JHUniverse Homepage
Headlines at Hopkins
News Release

Office of News and Information
212 Whitehead Hall / 3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2692
Phone: (410) 516-7160 / Fax (410) 516-5251

July 29, 1994
CONTACT: Ken Keatley

Hopkins Environmental Engineer Receives
Young Investigator Award

An assistant professor at The Johns Hopkins University has been awarded a 1994 National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award for her research in the field of environmental chemistry.

A. Lynn Roberts, of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering at Hopkins, was one of two researchers in the United States chosen to receive the award in the field of environmental engineering.

The awards, which are intended to recognize talented young researchers and to extend them research support, can provide each recipient with up to $100,000 a year for five years in federal and private funds.

Most of Dr. Roberts' research falls into one of two areas: investigating contaminants in aquatic systems, and developing improved technologies for remedying contaminated groundwater.

"I have long found the issue of the damage that we can do to the environment to be quite gripping," she said. "My philosophy, to paraphrase George Santayana, is that those who cannot learn from past pollution problems are condemned to repeat them."

One project in her laboratory is an investigation, with Hopkins engineering colleague Edward J. Bouwer, of trifluoromethyl iodide. It is being proposed as a replacement for halons, fire-extinguishing chemicals believed to be responsible for up to 25 percent of the stratospheric ozone depletion observed in the Antarctic. Halon production has been internationally banned, so industrial chemists are scrambling to find a substitute without ozone-depleting properties.

"Before we start manufacturing something in large quantities, we want to find out what is going to happen to it," said Dr. Roberts. "We need to know something about its chemical and biological degradability under different conditions." One way in which she hopes to help in avoiding future problems is to develop quantitative models that will predict the fate of chemicals before they are emitted to the environment. "There are some 60,000 organic chemicals in use right now, and thousands more being synthesized each year," Dr. Roberts explained. "Nobody has time to measure the physical-chemical properties and transformation rates for each of these, in every sort of setting. But this is information we need to predict whether these chemicals will be a problem 20 years from now." She and her team of laboratory researchers are testing a model Dr. Roberts developed that predicts environmental transformation rates from chemical structure. A refinement they are currently investigating is whether spectroscopic information can be used to predict chemical reactivity. "The idea is that if someone synthesizes some new chemical, they can predict how it's going to behave," Dr. Roberts said. "The results so far have been really encouraging; we think this looks like a promising technique."

Foresight may limit future contamination but the magnitude of past problems is staggering, with estimated annual cleanup costs in the billions of dollars. Dr. Roberts' team is studying passive remediation technology, which involves introducing appropriate substances underground to react with or to absorb pollutants. By examining the reactions contaminants undergo, they hope to learn what controls the formation of undesirable byproducts.

"This technology eliminates the need for perpetual maintenance of a contaminated site," she said. "We can't afford to pump and treat for 50 years or more."

Dr. Roberts received her bachelor's degree in geology from Pomona College, and worked as a consulting hydrogeologist. She earned a master's in contaminant hydrogeology from the University of Waterloo and a doctorate in environmental chemistry from the Department of Civil Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991. She served as a lecturer and postdoctoral associate at MIT before joining the Hopkins faculty last fall.

Dr. Roberts has previously been honored by the Environmental Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society for her research.

Johns Hopkins University news releases can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.jhu.edu/news_info/news/
   Information on automatic e-mail delivery of science and medical news releases is available at the same address.

Go to Headlines@HopkinsHome Page