Making a Difference in Water Quality

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

By Alison Sullivan
Writer, University of Iowa Graduate College

When J.V. Loperfido set his eyes on attending graduate school, the University of Iowa wasn’t the only institution on his list.  But once he toured Iowa’s Seamans Center with his father “it just felt right.” This feeling turned out to be the right decision.

“During my time at Iowa, I was able to hone my skills as a researcher and an independent and critical thinker, and developed expertise in some cutting-edge techniques that allow me to be successful with my current project,” Loperfido said, pleased with his time in the civil and environmental engineering program in the College of Engineering.

Loperfido received his Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering in 2009 and was awarded the Graduate Deans’ Distinguished Dissertation Award in mathematical, physical sciences, and engineering for his dissertation, “High-Frequency Sensing of Clear Creek Water Quality: Mechanisms of Dissolved Oxygen and Turbidity Dynamics, and Nutrient Transport.”

His research was largely funded by the Waters Network Initiative, which seeks a better understanding of the processes affecting the water cycle.

“You measure water quality in real time, upload that information to servers and model it in real time,” Loperfido said. “The idea is you can get water quality forecasts. Is that water quality safe to swim in? Is it safe to catch fish out of?”

He collaborated with UI professors Jerry Schnoor and Craig Just to design sensing stations for collecting high resolution water quality data every 15 minutes.

“I did the field work. I did all the modeling and the data analysis. Jerry and Craig are hands-off advisors in a good way. They helped me develop a sense of independence and allowed me to be an independent researcher, which is the goal of graduate studies,” Loperfido said. “It was a really great working relationship, because I’m an independent person and their style is very independent.”

Following graduation, Loperfido began working at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., on a Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellowship.  During his two-year fellowship, which ends in January 2012, Loperfido is examining how contrasting stormwater management strategies can reduce nutrient and sediment pollution for urban areas.

Loperfido’s UI advisors note that his accomplishments help bring distinction to Iowa. “Our graduate program in environmental engineering and science is ranked in the top 10 nationally, so J.V.’s achievements in our program carry significance well beyond our campus,” said Craig Just, an associate research scientist and coordinator of sustainability in the College of Engineering. “J.V.’s research area is in the cutting edge field of real-time water quality sensing and diurnal dynamics modeling that is an area of national significance. His work is of global significance, really, as water sustainability comes to the forefront of development challenges to be faced by people and the planet in the coming decades.”

In his current research, Loperfido is excited to continue using methods developed at the University of Iowa, in addition to serving in a new role as a mentor for undergraduate researchers.  He intends to continue his stormwater research after his fellowship.