Huang, who joined the UD faculty in 1974, is known worldwide for his work in environmental physical chemistry. He is credited with conducting pioneering research not only on the fate, transport and behavior of pollutants in aquatic environments but also on treatment and remediation methods.
Huang's work has addressed a broad spectrum of treatment approaches, including separation technologies, chemical and catalytic approaches, and physical methods for environmental protection. His contributions have gone beyond academic research to include providing technical assistance with the implementation of wastewater treatment systems and the production of training materials for system operators.
Recently, Huang has turned his attention to nanomaterials, in terms of both their eco-toxicity and their potential role in pollution remediation.
“While the research and applications of nanomaterials have grown exponentially in the past decade, understanding of the health and environmental implications of the technology is still in its infancy,” says Tsu-Wei Chou, Pierre S. du Pont Chair of Engineering at UD. “Prof. Huang's research group is one of the few in the U.S. engaging in a comprehensive study of the potential implications.”
While the negative effects of nanotechnology on the environment certainly demand further study as Chou suggests, nanomaterials also show promise as a technology for improving environmental health. To that end, Huang is currently investigating the use of nano-sized titanium dioxide photocatalysts for the control of chemical hazards in water.
The theme uniting all of his work is stewardship of aquatic resources. “C.P. is a strong promoter of water reuse,” says P.C. Chiang, Distinguished Professor at National Taiwan University and a long-time collaborator with Huang. “He has campaigned vehemently for replacing the term 'wastewater' with 'used water.' To him, there is no wastewater, and every drop of 'used water' must be recovered for reuse.”
Huang and Samuel P. Myoda, who earned his doctorate under Huang's advisement in 2001, were recently selected by the Environmental Water Resources Institute (EWRI) to receive the 2008 Wesley W. Horner Award for their development of a sonochemical treatment to remove pathogenic protozoa such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia from wastewater effluent. These microscopic parasites can cause serious outbreaks of intestinal illness when contaminated water is ingested.
“To meet the increasing demand for potable water, it is essential that reuse and reclamation projects be developed and implemented to augment water sources,” Huang says. “The reuse of treated wastewater could provide a significant portion of the demand for clean water if we can successfully deal with microbial and chemical contamination.”
“Pathogenic organisms such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia pose a potential threat to public health,” he continues. “These parasites can withstand many conventional disinfection processes, particularly chlorine-based systems. Typically, the chlorine dose can be increased to eliminate the pathogens, but there is a trade-off in treatment strategies.”
Eliminating the biological contaminants with large doses of chlorine brings about a problem with disinfectant by-products, known as DPBs; on the other hand, minimizing DBP formation requires reduced rates of chlorine, leading to a larger population of potentially dangerous microorganisms.
Huang and Myoda developed an alternative process that sends ultrasonic waves through water samples, creating hydroxyl radicals that can render bacteria and protozoan pathogens inactive. Preliminary studies to assess the process indicate that it shows promise as an effective disinfection technology.
Huang's work been supported during the past 35 years by some 50 grants totaling more than $6 million from federal and state agencies, professional organizations, foundations, and industry, and his findings have been documented in four books, 19 book chapters, and more than 180 refereed journal papers, as well as in hundreds of technical reports and invited and conference presentations.
His scientific reach stretches throughout the global environmental engineering and science community. Huang has hosted dozens of collaborators and international visitors from Brazil, China, Egypt, Korea, Spain and Taiwan. He has also taught many short courses and organized conferences throughout the world in countries including China, Hong Kong, Korea, Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan.
But winning the Alison Award is about more than just scholarship. Like Francis Alison, Huang is a scholar-schoolmaster, and he has earned a reputation as much for his teaching as for his research.
Since 1974, Huang has advised 59 master's degree students and 37 doctoral candidates. Of the latter group, 19 are now teaching at universities throughout the world, and 10 have achieved the rank of full professor.
“This is an extremely impressive record,” says Michael J. Chajes, interim dean of the College of Engineering, “and it documents the level of impact that Dr. Huang has had. If students are our most important product, then he has been very productive. He has also ensured that the knowledge developed here in his research programs is being disseminated not only through his publications and his own teaching but also through the teaching of his graduates at universities in the United States and abroad.”
Huang's accomplishments as a teacher and mentor have been recognized with the Gordon Maskew Fair Medal for Outstanding Service in Engineering Education from the Water Environment Federation, a not-for-profit technical and educational organization of water quality professionals, and the 2007 Graduate Advising and Mentoring Award from the University of Delaware.
Many of the former students and internationally recognized scholars who provided support for Huang's nomination mentioned his humility, and Chajes says he believes it is this trait that has stood in the way of his being honored in the past.
“Because he is so humble,” Chajes says, “he has often been overlooked when it comes to awards that require nomination or self-promotion. I'm really pleased that C.P. is finally getting the recognition that he deserves for his 34 years of service to the University of Delaware, to his students and colleagues and to the profession.”
Huang received his bachelor's degree at the National Taiwan University and went on to earn a master's degree in environmental engineering and a doctorate in aquatic chemistry, both from Harvard University. At Harvard, he studied under Werner Stumm, who is considered the father of the multidisciplinary field of aquatic chemistry.
By Diane S. Kukich
Photo by Kevin Quinlan