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Rowan University has received more than $800,000 in new awards from the New Jersey Health Foundation for 20 projects in 2024, the largest number of awards ever given to Rowan in a single year by the foundation to support research, community health and social service programs.

Zhiming Zhang, Ph.D., an assistant professor of environmental engineering in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering, will be using his NJHF grant for studying the efficacy of a process for removing PFAS from stormwater runoff. PFAS – a group of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the body or the environment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, PFAS are associated with certain adverse health effects, including kidney and testicular cancer. PFAS have been detected in lakes and rivers as well as in drinking water and freshwater fish across the country.

There are multiple ways PFAS can get into water systems, including discharge from industrial facilities, usage of firefighting foams to put out fires, and stormwater runoff generated from rain and snowmelt. Zhang and his team will first analyze stormwater samples to understand the baseline amount of PFAS in stormwater runoff. Then, they will test the process for removing PFAS from stormwater runoff using adsorption materials that can bond with PFAS.

“We will repurpose an industrial solid waste—drinking water treatment residuals that are generated during conventional drinking water treatment processes—to remove the PFAS compounds from stormwater through adsorption processes,” Zhang said. “Instead of being landfilled, the proposed treatment process gives drinking water treatment residuals a second life, a great practice towards sustainability.”

The technology proposed by Zhang can be used in field applications, such as storm-drain catch basins. Much like a filter, a bag containing the repurposed drinking water treatment residuals can be put into catch basins. When stormwater runoff flows into the catch basins, contaminants like PFAS compounds can be adsorbed and removed from the stormwater discharge, reducing the amount of PFAS in surface water systems.

Other NJHF grants awarded to Rowan include:

  • Plasmalogen Precursor Supplements as a Potential Treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury, Nimish Acharya, New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging;
  • The Transcend, Heal, Respond, InnoVate & Empower (THRIVE) Center, Rachel Silliman Cohen, Child Abuse Research Education & Service Institute;
  • A Recombinant Soluble Human Podoplanin Receptor to Combat Cancer, Gary Goldberg, Molecular Biology;
  • OPA Warehouse Mapping, John Hasse, Geography, Planning & Sustainability;
  • How Students Navigate Engineering with Non-Apparent Disabilities, Cassandra Jamison, Experiential Engineering Education Department;
  • Design and Pilot Testing of an FHIR-compatible Electronic Recovery Support Record System for Peer Recovery Coaches, Richard Jermyn, Rehabilitation Medicine;
  • Novel Therapeutic Agents for the Treatment of Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Subash Jonnalagadda, Chemistry & Biochemistry;
  • Developing and Analyzing Antiviral Compounds from Honey Bee Venom, Claude Krummenacher, Biomedical & Biological Sciences;
  • Camp Abilities NJ: A Community Health Initiative, Maria Lepore-Stevens, STEAM Education;
  • Revolutionizing Ocular Health: Smart pH-Sensitive Contact Lenses for Precision Drug Delivery on Demand, Ping Lu, Chemistry & Biochemistry;
  • All-Star Youth Sports Clinic for Children with Disabilities Led by Medical Student Coaches to Improve Child Health and Build Trusting Relationships with Future Physicians; Dean Micciche, Academic Affairs, Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine;
  • Diagnostic Markers for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); Sangita Phadtare, Biomedical Science;
  • Data-Driven Glioma Treatment: Harnessing Machine Learning for Personalized Design of CAR T-Cell Immunotherapy; Mary Staehle, Biomedical Engineering;
  • Evaluating Efficacy of Injectable Bmp2 Peptide Hydrogels in Healing Non-Union Femur Fractures; Sebastian Vega, Biomedical Engineering;
  • Mechanism of Enzyme Regulation by Magnesium; Brian Weiser, Molecular Biology;
  • Milk Matters: The Breastfeeding Curriculum for Rising Health Care Professionals; Deborah Williams, Academic Affairs;
  • Optimization of a Novel HDAC6 Selective Inhibitor (C4) for Treating Triple-Negative Breast Cancer; Chun Wu, Chemistry & Biochemistry;
  • Revolutionizing Ocular Health: Smart pH-Sensitive Contact Lenses for Precision Drug Delivery on Demand; Ping Zhang, Biomedical Science;
  • Bolstering Community Stakeholders’ Awareness, Self-Efficacy, and Outreach to Strengthen Partnerships with and Supports for Immigrant Families of Young Children (Birth – Age 5); Nicole Edwards; Wellness and Inclusive Services in Education.

Photo caption:

Zhiming Zhang, Ph.D., an assistant professor of environmental engineering in the Henry Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University, is conducting research on the efficacy of removing PFAS from stormwater runoff. – Photo courtesy of Rowan University.