Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 3, Page 8
Spring 1994
On Research
Harnessing microbes for decontamination

     Many researchers conduct their studies in sterile, climate-
controlled laboratories. For civil engineering Prof. Judith Carberry,
toxic landfills, municipal treatment plants and contaminated worksites
are her laboratory.
     All types of land-whether a factory site, open farmland, highway
median strips or landfills-have the potential to be contaminated.
Cleaning up the surface and sub-surface soils of known contaminated
areas has become a national priority. Basically, there are only two
generally accepted solutions-removal and transferral of the infected
soil to a secure landfill or on-site treatment.
     Carberry has been involved in research and application of on-site
treatment methods through bioremediation for nearly 10 years.
Bioremediation refers to the process where microbes-unicellular living
organisms, often referred to as bacteria, fungi or algae, still
present in the contaminated site-are able to degrade waste material.
     Carberry's work primarily focuses on two areas:
        * Optimizing engineered waste-water processing to remove as
          many pollutants as possible to improve water quality and
          reduce the amount of sludge that remains; and
        * Designing and implementing on-site treatment of contaminated
          natural sites to avoid costly transport and controlled
          storage of toxic materials.
     The toxic waste research process begins when Carberry and several
graduate students secure soil samples from the investigation site.
Then, in her DuPont Hall laboratory on the Newark campus, the samples
are examined to determine the nature of the toxins present and what
other substances-such as nitrogen, phosphates, oxygen and water-should
be added to optimize the healthy enzymes at the site.
     Carberry says her laboratory work has been successfully applied
to a number of contaminated areas, including landfills, gas stations,
industrial complexes and highway chemical spills.
     "When I started doing this research," she recalls, "people were
saying, 'You can't do that.' Now, they're beating down the door."
     Carberry has lectured and consulted on her work in bioremediation
throughout the United States and abroad, and has served as a visiting
professor at the Israeli Institute of Technology and at the Hazardous
Substance Research Center of Howard University. She received the
Harrison Prescott Eddy Award from the Chesapeake Water Environment
Association in 1993.
     Identifying the problems and discovering the solutions associated
with contaminated soils and the disposal of municipal waste demands an
interdisciplinary approach, so Carberry collaborates on several
efforts with colleagues in microbiology and agricultural engineering.
     Carberry says she and fellow researchers are involved in
developing new laboratory protocols. These are step-by-step procedures
that will enable researchers to secure field samples properly and
apply proven laboratory techniques and procedures to discover
     Carberry says her work has achieved a nearly 100 percent
practical application success rate.
     "I'm certainly amazed by the scope of research," she says. "When
you do research, the answer to one question should raise other
questions. So, research keeps building and building."
                                     -Ed Okonowicz, Delaware '69, '84M