Before taking a sip of bottled water, UC Davis‘ Frank Loge probably thinks about more than just drinking it.
A professor of civil and environmental engineering, Loge examines every aspect of the hydrogen oxygen combo – from the sky to the ground, from waste to our mouths and everything in between.
What do you teach at UC Davis?
I mainly teach classes related to green engineering and sustainability. I’ve developed three new courses on the UCD campus since arriving here in January of 2005, and plan to develop a couple of more in the coming year. Oddly, one of the greatest pleasures I get from teaching is instructing a class for the first time. There is a sense of wonder of how things fit together that is hard to capture when you teach a class multiple times – which is not to say that it cannot be done.
And what research do you do here?
One of my colleagues told me recently that my research appears eclectic. I had to look the word up. Just as in teaching, I like the exploration of ideas in research. This has led me down a path of a number of what may appear different research projects, but I’d like to assure my colleague that they are all in some way related to green engineering, with key focal areas in sustainability and health. My research group is currently involved in a human epidemiology study funded by the EPA focused on understanding relationships between acute gastroenteritis in a community and viruses in drinking water; conversion of soluble carbon in wastewater into natural biodegradable plastic; removal of phosphorous in wastewater biologically; impact of dams, chemicals and other stressors on fish health; and water and energy relationships.
What do you find most interesting about your research?
Two things. First, I really like to see the work that I am involved in integrated into a larger picture where it can help either humans or the environment. As examples, a lot of the fish work I am involved in helps action agencies develop management actions to save endangered species, and the epidemiology study will help the EPA develop revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act. Second, I really enjoy integrating my research into teaching; it broadens the research, and makes teaching and learning much more enjoyable. As an example, last year a group in one of my classes expanded upon the biodegradable plastic idea and submitted it to the EPA People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) competition, where they won both Phase I and Phase II, and they are now in the process of starting a company in the Sacramento area around this idea. The success of this student group is a testament to their abilities, not mine; I simply provided an opportunity for them to express that potential.
Where are some unlikely places we can find usable water?
This may sound crazy, and I really haven’t looked into this more, but I would say condensation. I think if you dug a hole in the Davis area, and designed it properly, you could collect water from the air most times of the year.
Are you ever skeptical of the water you drink, be it from tap or a bottle?
Ah, my answer could get me in trouble, so let me qualify my response with the following statement: the drinking water in the U.S. is some of the safest in the world, and there are no real regulations governing bottled water to ensure that it is safe. With that said, from what I have learned from the EPA epidemiology study has led me to drink only bottled water, whenever possible. Given that there are no real regulations for bottled water, I try to get water from places where I know the water is safe, like H2O to Go in Davis.
Has your research led you to any interesting locations?
I spent 12 days out at sea a year ago as part of a research project, and more recently traveled down the Snake and Columbia Rivers on a barge hauling millions of juvenile salmon to sea. I’ve recently wanted to travel out to the ‘plastic garbage patch‘ located around Hawaii to see if such a place actually exists – maybe someday.
Why do you like the combination of teaching and researching at the same time at UCD?
To me, they are one in the same. I learn every day from my research. Students learn every day from me in the classroom. So why not cut out the middle person: Why can’t students learn every day in an environment that they create as part of research, and in doing so, enjoy the world of discovery? I view my role simply as providing that opportunity.
Can we expect any exciting breakthroughs in your line of work any time soon? If so, what would they be?
There are several things that I could list, but the one thing that I am most excited about lately is the possible opportunity to build one or more small structures on campus that are very green and sustainable, and to integrate this effort into a series of classes. We are currently moving forward, and I say that delicately recognizing that there are many steps involved, in designing, and hopefully constructing, a kitchen for the Student Farm on campus, and later down the road, we are hoping to build a Sustainable Learning Laboratory.
Aside from water, what is something that all humans should be equipped with in life?
An appreciation of diversity. I strongly support travel, internships and any other mechanism to get students into places that they are not familiar with, whether it be nature or other cultures. As a second item, I’d add a sense of community.
What is something about your life that your students and colleagues might not know about you?
At one point in my life I considered living in a trailer and being a raft guide for the rest of my life. There are still days when I consider such a profession.
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.