2023-24 AEESP Distinguished Lecturer

Elizabeth A. Edwards, Ph.D., P.Eng.
Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, and Department of Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto
Lecture Tour Dates
September 2023 through April 2024

Professor Elizabeth Edwards holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Chemical Engineering from McGill University, Montreal, and a Ph.D. degree (1993) in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University.  She is known for her work on anaerobic bioremediation, the application of molecular biology and metagenomics to uncover novel microbial processes, and the transition of laboratory research into commercial practice to develop bioremediation and bioaugmentation strategies for groundwater pollutants. Professor Edwards' research team discovered and characterized novel microbial cultures such as the now commercial KB-1® consortium that metabolize pollutants previously thought to be recalcitrant.  This discovery led to the founding of SiREM Laboratories in Guelph in 2002.  Professor Edwards and her team were awarded the 2009 NSERC Synergy Award for their highly successful partnership with Geosyntec Consultants and SiREM deploying the KB-1® microbial consortium at industrial sites contaminated with chlorinated solvents around the world.  Dr. Edwards is also the founding director of BioZone, a Centre for Applied Bioscience and Bioengineering Research at the University of Toronto and a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Anaerobic Biotechnology.  In 2016, she was awarded the Canada Council of the Arts Killam Prize in recognition of her outstanding career achievements and was appointed an Officer in the Order of Canada (Canada's highest civilian honour) by the Canadian Governor General in 2020.

Lecture Topics

Professor Edwards will present two lectures in the 2023-2024 Tour:

Lecture 1: "Adventures in anaerobic bioremediation"

Groundwater contamination is a serious threat to global health and prosperity.  Petroleum hydrocarbons, industrial solvents, pesticides, herbicides, and metals are some of the most frequent culprits.  Some microbes have evolved and adapted to transform or detoxify contaminants.  Certain species, such as Dehalococcoides, can dechlorinate the major dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethene and the common industrial solvent trichloroethene to the benign product ethene.  Remarkably, these organisms obtain energy for growth from dechlorination, and several successful demonstrations of bioaugmentation, where an aquifer is inoculated with a mixed microbial culture, have led to the development of a viable commercial market for such dechlorinating cultures.  By studying enrichment cultures and their megagenomes, we are learning more about novel interspecies interactions in these remarkable, ubiquitous, anaerobic microbial communities, and their specialized enzymes that catalyze reductive dehalogenation reactions.  Benzene is another problematic contaminant, readily degraded under oxic conditions, but highly persistent in anaerobic environments.  The anaerobic metabolism of benzene is complex and still largely unknown, yet clues are emerging that reveal novel microbes, pathways and enzymes that could be harnessed for cleanup.  Prospects for biodegradation of other contaminants, including the pesticide chlordecone and perfluorinated substances will be discussed.

[Note that the lecture can be tailored to emphasize contaminants of interest.]

Lecture 2: "The complex microbiology of pilot and full-scale anaerobic digestion systems"

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is an effective process for converting organic material into methane and carbon dioxide.  AD is the result of a beautifically intricate and complex interactive microbial ecosystem.  Inexpensive sequencing technology has enabled unprecedented exploration of these ecosystems uncovering thousands of new microbes and putative genes.  Yet how can we extract meaningful and actionable data from these microbiological data?  We have investigated solid-state anaerobic digestion (SS-AD) as a viable alternative for organic waste disposal, particularly in North America where tipping fees are low, because it minimizes the costs of waste pretreatment, mixing, and subsequent wastewater treatment.  We have operated a laboratory SS-AD digester affectionately called "Daisy" for several years.  Daisy comprises six 10L leach beds and is fed a mixture of cardboard, boxboard, newsprint, and fine paper, and varying amounts of food waste.  The addition of food waste results in enhanced fiber conversion, but is this enhanced conversion explained by microbial community composition?  We have also investigated full scale AD systems treating pulp and paper mill waste streams and tracked the associated microbial communities.  These data reveal the importance of time with respect to adaptation of the microbial community and response to perturbations.  Appreciating microbial community dynamics, and in particular different process and metabolic time constants will contribute to improved AD operation.

Tour Schedule

Professor Edwards' Autumn 2023 Semester Schedule:

DatesContactsHost (and Co-Host Schools)Lecture
Sept. 22, 2023Upal GhoshUniversity of Maryland Baltimore County (Johns Hopkins University; University of Maryland College Park; Howard University)Lecture 1
Sept. 26, 2023Shawn McElmurryWayne State University (The University Research Corridor; The University of Michigan; Michigan State University; The University of Toledo)Lecture 1
Nov. 3-4, 2023Feng XiaoThe University of Missouri (Missouri University of Science and Technology; Washington University in St. Louis; Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)
*Meetings with students & faculty Nov. 3; lecture at MAEEC at University of Missouri on Nov. 4.
Lecture 1
Nov. 6-10, 2023Craig JustThe University of Iowa (Des Moines Area Community College (Water Environmental Tech Program); Iowa State University Bioeconomy Institute)
*Participates in EPA Region 7 Anaerobic Digestion Conference Nov. 6-8 in Ames, IA; lecture at University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA at 10:30 am CT on Nov. 10 at the Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory; Seminar Room.
Lecture 2
Dec. 1, 2023Ning DaiThe University at Buffalo (Case Western Reserve University; Cornell University; Syracuse University)Lecture 1
Dec. 8, 2023Radisav Vidic and Meng WangUniversity of Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon University; Duquesne University)Lecture 2

Professor Edwards' Spring 2024 Semester Schedule:

DatesContactsHost (and Co-Host Schools)Lecture
Jan. 19, 2024Sudeep PopatClemson University (Georgia Tech; Auburn University; University of North Carolina-Charlotte; University of South CarolinaLecture 1
Jan. 22, 2024Morton BarlazNorth Carolina State University (Duke University; University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)Lecture 2
Feb. 2, 2024Sarina ErgasUniversity of South Florida (University of Central Florida; University of Florida; Florida Gulf Coast University)Lecture 2
Feb. 9, 2024Shankar ChellamTexas A&M University (University of Texas at Austin; University of Houston; Rice University)Lecture 2
Feb. 27, 2024Anca DelgadoArizona State University (University of Arizona; Northern Arizona University)Lecture 1
Feb. 29, 2024Adam SmithUniversity of Southern California (UCLA; UC-Irvine; UC-Riverside)Lecture 1
Mar. 6, 2024Anjali MulchandaniUniversity of New Mexico (New Mexico Tech; Navajo Tech; New Mexico State University; University of Texas El Paso)Lecture 2
Mar. 8, 2024Cresten MansfeldtUniversity of Colorado Boulder (Colorado State University; Colorado School of Mines)Lecture 1
Apr. 3Antonio Domingues BenettiUniversidade Federal do Rio Grande do SulLecture 2
Apr. 12, 2024Na WeiUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Purdue University; University of Notre Dame; Illinois Institute of Technology; University of Illinois at Chicago; Northwestern University; Bradley University)Lecture 2
May 1, 2024Mike Templeton and Tom CurtisNewcastle University (Imperial College London)(Lecture 1)