Two Assistant Professors Join CEGE in the Shadow of the Pandemic

In spite of obstacles due to COVID-19 restrictions, new professors Boya Xiong and Judy Yang have already contributed through their teaching and research.

Boya Xiong

BOYA XIONG is passionate about the science and engineering that enables environmental sustainability of polymer chemicals and materials. Her research is focused on the interface of polymer science, environmental chemistry, and membrane materials science. She aims to i) elucidate the fundamental mechanism of polymer degradation that shapes sustainable design and management criteria of future polymer chemicals and materials, and ii) to develop novel nature-inspired membrane material architecture to mitigate pathogenic contamination and fouling.

Xiong is committed to mentoring the next generation of environmental engineers and scientists at all levels. She began her teaching in fall 2020 with CEGE 8504 Theory of Unit Operations, a course that teaches the theoretical basis, design, and operation of chemical and physical processes used in treating/ controlling water quality. Before coming to UMN, Xiong was recognized with an MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering Postdoctoral Scholar Mentoring, Teaching, and Excellence Award.

Xiong is making great contributions through her research. Some of her recent projects include:

  • being principle investigator on a project funded by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) that will investigate contamination of drinking water sources by wastewater. The research continues and expands on earlier COVID-19-related research.
  • delivering an invited lecture, “Peptide-enabled sand filters for waterborne pathogen control,” at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Center of Filtration Research at UMN’s Department of Mechanical Engineering on June 4, 2020.
  • receiving seed grants from the NSF Center for Sustainable Polymer, and the NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers to work on assessing environmental degradability of single-use plastics and peptide-enabled filtration materials.
  • having her research featured in the journal Nature. She and the Johnson Group in Chemistry at MIT showed that ultra strong thermoset plastics could be degraded under both natural seawater and sunlight conditions and industrial recycling schemes, allowing for reuse and improved environmental compatibility without compromising strength.

Judy Yang

JUDY YANG is interested in problems related to coastal and riverine erosion, the sequestration and release of carbon from soil, and the spread of bacteria in nature. She conducts research to understand how micron-scale particulate and microbial interactions affect environmental transport processes. She is dedicated to bringing tools and knowledge from various fields to understand and predict environmental transport processes, including coastal erosion, algae blooms, and global carbon cycling. Her research focuses on developing interdisciplinary approaches to mimic and understand our complex natural environment in the lab.

Her favorite experience at UMN has been teaching Fluid Mechanics, with about 60 students in fall 2020. “I am very proud of my students. They all work hard and are very supportive. I was touched when I received a thank-a-teacher note from a girl in my class, saying that my professorship as a female encourages her to succeed in engineering as a woman. One of my dreams is to help more people get equal education opportunities. I was heartbroken when I learned that my grandma, who is a smart woman and a quick learner, was forced to drop out of school because she was a girl. I feel lucky to have received a great education in my life. There are many people, especially from underrepresented groups, that don’t have such educational opportunities. I became more aware of education inequality and stereotypes when I was teaching Algebra in a women’s correctional facility right before the pandemic started. All my students were very smart, but I felt some stereotypes hindered their success. As a teacher, my greatest pleasure would be to help reduce these stereotypes and empower all my students to reach their full potential.”

Yang and colleagues at Princeton published a research paper in Nature Communications, “Carbon-chomping soil bacteria may pose hidden climate risk.” The article has been picked up and featured in several other news media, including Science Daily and eight others.

is interested in problems related to coastal and riverine erosion, the sequestration and release of carbon from soil, and the spread of bacteria in nature. She conducts research to understand how micron-scale particulate and microbial interactions affect environmental transport processes. She is dedicated to bringing tools and knowledge from various fields to understand and predict environmental transport processes, including coastal erosion, algae blooms, and global carbon cycling. Her research focuses on developing interdisciplinary approaches to mimic and understand our complex natural environment in the lab.

Her favorite experience at UMN has been teaching Fluid Mechanics, with about 60 students in fall 2020. “I am very proud of my students. They all work hard and are very supportive. I was touched when I received a thank-a-teacher note from a girl in my class, saying that my professorship as a female encourages her to succeed in engineering as a woman. One of my dreams is to help more people get equal education opportunities. I was heartbroken when I learned that my grandma, who is a smart woman and a quick learner, was forced to drop out of school because she was a girl. I feel lucky to have received a great education in my life. There are many people, especially from underrepresented groups, that don’t have such educational opportunities. I became more aware of education inequality and stereotypes when I was teaching Algebra in a women’s correctional facility right before the pandemic started. All my students were very smart, but I felt some stereotypes hindered their success. As a teacher, my greatest pleasure would be to help reduce these stereotypes and empower all my students to reach their full potential.”

Yang and colleagues at Princeton published a research paper in Nature Communications, “Carbon-chomping soil bacteria may pose hidden climate risk.” The article has been picked up and featured in several other news media, including Science Daily and eight others.

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