PROTECT Trainee Yuwei Zhao Graduates Northeastern and Enters Industry

Feb 24, 2022 | PROTECT Team, PROTECT Trainees

After completing her PhD at the end of 2021, PROTECT Project 4 Trainee Yuwei Zhao is entering industry to work as a field engineer in environmental consulting.

Yuwei graduated from Northeastern University with her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering in December after she defended her dissertation, “Electrogeneration of Hydrogen Peroxide for Electro-Fenton Process in the Flow-Through System.” While she was a PhD candidate, Yuwei was a PROTECT trainee on Project 4 under the mentorship of Professor Akram Alshawabkeh. Her research focused on innovative water remediation and the design of a cathode modification method for a flow-through groundwater remediation system. As a PROTECT trainee, she presented at multiple SRP Annual Meetings, participated in pilot lab and field tests in Boston, and worked with the Young Scholars program. She was also the lead inventor on a patent application submitted in fall 2020.

In her dissertation, Yuwei conducted an experimental program to select the most efficient H2O2 electrogeneration method for a flow-through system, optimize the performance and stability of the modified cathode on H2O2 production, and compare cast iron anode and FeSO4 salt in the performance of the electro-Fenton process. Her results showed that the 2-electron oxidation reduction reaction (2e-ORR) was less impacted by increasing flow rate and is more effective for generating H2O2 in a flow-through system. Additionally, a key to solving the limited O2 mass transfer issue related to the flow-through system is to increase the hydrophobicity of the cathode. The longevity of the modified carbon cathode is improved by increasing the thickness of the dielectric layer to prevent electrowetting. Finally, cast iron anode can be used as an external Fe2+ supply for water that does not have enough Fe2+, but this design only works well at a low flow rate. The FeSO4 system has better resistance to flow rate change and can be used for high flow rate conditions.

In her new role at an environmental consulting company, Yuwei looks forward to applying her knowledge on environmental remediation to practice. “My research on advanced remediation will be valuable for my new role, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to apply my remediation knowledge in practice,” Yuwei said. Her research on groundwater resources opens the door to work on a range of projects. “My knowledge in groundwater remediation provides me a chance to work on several groundwater related projects,” she said.

Yuwei has found that her time as a PROTECT trainee equipped her with skills that have prepared her for this step in her career. “I had the chance to meet people from different universities and with different research backgrounds, which let me gain experience in learning new ideas from others,” she said. Yuwei also mentored junior graduate and undergraduate students while she was a trainee, which provided her the opportunity to learn project management skills. Her experience in working with trainees, postdocs, and faculty members across the country also showed her how to communicate more efficiently and effectively. “Good communication and a self-learning ability are the most valued qualities by consulting firms,” she said. PROTECT helped her sharpen these important skills.

As Yuwei transitions from academia to industry, she is excited to meet experienced researchers and engineers, both within her company and in the industry at large. She is also excited to bring in and apply her knowledge and research skills to a new space. As this is her first research job outside of academia, she also looks forward to seeing exactly how environmental remediation and research works in industry.

Congratulations, Yuwei, on this major step in your career!