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Colorado professor wins water award for UV research legacy

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The National Water Research Institute (NWRI) has awarded its annual Clarke Prize for Excellence in Water Research to University of Colorado Boulder Civil Engineering Professor Dr. Karl Linden, the world’s most published researcher in the field of UV light-emitting diode (LED) systems.

The NWRI says that researchers like Linden have helped to transform disinfection and oxidation procedures from an idea discussed only in academic circles into an industry standard.

Clarke received the water honour in a virtual ceremony, where he shared that he could not have accomplished all he has without the inspiration he has found in students.

“Without these people — the students and postdocs I’ve gotten to work with over my career — I would not be standing here as the Clarke Prize laureate. From my very first student, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with talented, smart, creative and tenacious students,” said Clarke, who displayed a huge collage of students’ faces during his acceptance speech in Colorado.

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Linden first learned about the value of anaerobically-treated wastewater for crops in 1987 through an article in The New York Times. Soon, he was under the mentorship of the article’s author, William Jewell, who was also a professor at Cornell University, where Linden was studying. In no time, Linden was studying horticultural waste management under Jewell.

“I always encourage my students to take detours in research and follow those strange or unexplained results to see where they will take you. This is where we make new knowledge,” Linden said. “Never take the obvious path and keep curious about new opportunities.”

Linden’s work in academia dates to 1992 as a teaching and research assistant at the University of California, Davis, before he received his doctorate degree in environmental engineering in 1997.

According to Linden, the tipping point for UV treatment in water occurred in 1998, following a cryptosporidium outbreak years earlier in Milwaukee that drove momentum for new treatments and regulations for untreated water facilities. At the time, Jennifer Clancy’s work, he recalled, found that while cryptosporidium was resistant to conventional chlorine‐based disinfectants, ultraviolet light inactivated cryptosporidium oocysts.

Linden saw great promise in UV treatment and joined UNC Charlotte.

In addition to numerous industry awards, Linden has received the Water Environment Federation 2013 Pioneer Award in Disinfection and Public Health. He has also contributed to WEF technical resources on disinfection.

Nominated by their peers, Clarke Prize candidates are evaluated by an expert panel on their top three career accomplishments, current research or policy endeavours, their efforts to engage the public around water issues, and their leadership in improving water sustainability. The winner receives USD $50,000.

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