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UT Arlington engineer to search for bad algal blooms

A University of Texas at Arlington environmental engineer has received a three-year, $561,730 grant to identify harmful algal blooms in fresh and salt water so that water providers can take action to contain and curb the blooms.

The National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation have awarded Assistant Professor Hyeok Choi the grant to develop and place sensors to find where these biological toxins exist so that the harmful algae can be monitored.

"We will use satellite information to identify the best demonstration site where our sensors can be installed," said Choi, who is in the Civil Engineering Department. "These sensors will be able to read the microcystins or biological toxins wirelessly, then report back to us."

Sungyong Jung, a UT Arlington associate professor of electrical engineering, is building the sensors, in cooperation with Sang-Yeon Cho of New Mexico State University and Jung-Min Park of Virginia Tech.

The Environmental Protection Agency will direct the research team to the site where there is a high concentration of biological toxins, Choi said. Researchers will deploy the sensors, often travel to the site to collect samples and measure the amount of biological toxins in that water through a laboratory process. The EPA also plans to take water samples to blind-test in the lab. Those lab analysis toxin data will be compared with the data monitored and transmitted by the in situ sensing network.

"We hope that eventually water providers like cities and treatment facilities can use our information to make the water safer for society," Choi said. "It can communicate the information to remote authorities in real time for establishing an early warning system."

Choi said the wireless sensor network is able to monitor various toxins sustainably and responsively.

Jean-Pierre Bardet, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering, said that Choi's work has the opportunity to dramatically improve how third-world countries cope with water sources saturated with such toxins.

"Monitoring general algal bloom activities gives an idea on potential hazard while monitoring actual biological toxins gives an insight on imminent hazard," Bardet said. "This innovation has the potential to aid anyone who uses water."


Contact: Herb Booth
University of Texas at Arlington

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