Published in UMCP Division of Research, Research Roundup | September 29, 2023
In November of 2022, University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) President Darryll J. Pines and University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Bruce E. Jarrell named six professors to the second cohort of MPower Professors. This award from the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State (MPower) recognizes, incentivizes, and fosters collaboration between faculty from each campus who are working together to solve the grand challenges of our time.
Selected for her commitment to interdisciplinary and interprofessional collaboration, Amy R. Sapkota is a Professor of Environmental Health Sciences in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the Director of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health at UMCP. She is also Director of CONSERVE: A Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food, and Health, the UMD Global STEWARDS (STEM Training at the Nexus of Energy, Water Reuse, and Food Systems) NSF Traineeship, and the Global FEWture Alliance funded by the Grand Challenges Grants Program. Dr. Sapkota’s research interests focus on microbial water quality and the development of water reuse solutions that advance climate resilience and are protective of public health, and she has published over 95 journal articles in these areas.
Can you briefly explain the type of research you do?
I lead highly interdisciplinary research, extension and education teams focused on developing technology- and policy-based solutions at the nexus of food, energy, water, climate, and health. Our teams comprise faculty from six colleges and schools across campus and include agricultural, environmental, social/behavioral, engineering, computer science, public health, planning, and policy experts, to name a few. In terms of my own disciplinary expertise, my specific research lies in the areas of environmental health science, environmental microbiology, exposure assessment, and environmental epidemiology. Specifically, my individual lab focuses on microbial water quality and explores how we can advance agricultural and municipal water reuse activities while protecting food safety, the environment, biodiversity, and public health.
What drives you to do this research?
I am passionate about doing my part to ensure that we have a habitable planet. Advancing water reuse preserves precious groundwater resources, reduces energy inputs needed to pump and distribute water, helps support a safe and sustainable food supply, and can help reduce carbon emissions.
How do you gather data or conduct studies for your research?
In terms of our water reuse focused work, we engage in field and laboratory-based studies that seek to comprehensively characterize the quality of recycled water sources, using state-of-the-art sequencing and analytical methods. We also develop and test low-cost, low-energy, decentralized water treatment solutions that can reduce both microbial and chemical contaminants in recycled water. Finally, we conduct exposure assessment and epidemiological studies to advance knowledge regarding the human health impacts associated with a number of water-related exposures, including exposures to recycled water.
What did it mean to you personally to be named an MPower Professor?
I was absolutely surprised and delighted to receive a phone call from President Pines, informing me that I had been awarded an MPower Professorship. I feel so honored that my team’s work is being recognized at this level. And it really is about our entire team: how we nurture students, post-docs, and early career faculty members; promote teamwork; center multiple voices in decision making; engage students and post-docs in grant writing; and create an ecosystem of shared leadership and responsibility. This is what has enabled our group to be so successful. In my opinion, UMD students, post-docs, and early career professionals are the backbone of this university’s entire research enterprise. In fact, I feel that we need MPower awards for them, too!
How do you collaborate with researchers outside of your discipline?
Our teams are all highly interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinary teamwork is the only way that we can move forward and develop solutions to the grand challenges of our time. Our CONSERVE Center of Excellence, UMD Global STEWARDS NSF NRT and Global FEWture Alliance involve researchers from UMCP’s School of Public Health, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, School of Engineering, School of Public Policy, School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, College of Arts and Humanities, and College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Beyond our own campus, we collaborate with diverse researchers and scholars as near as the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), and as far as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and Kathmandu University in Nepal.
Why is this collaboration important to you?
Working in a truly transdisciplinary research environment where new approaches and new ways of thinking evolve as a result of bringing together diverse disciplines is the only way that we can truly engage holistic, systems-thinking approaches in a way that brings about sustainable solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges.
Please name the researchers you have worked with on MPower collaborations:
There really are too many to name, but UMCP, UMB, and UMES collaborators include, but are not limited to:
- Dina Borzekowski, University of Maryland School of Public Health
- Suhana Chattopadhyay, University of Maryland School of Public Health
- Jennifer Cotting, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
- Allen Davis, University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering
- Rachel Rosenberg Goldstein, University of Maryland School of Public Health
- Paul Goeringer, University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Fawzy Hashem, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences
- Nathan Hultman, University of Maryland School of Public Policy
- Stephanie Lansing, University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Xin-Zhong Liang, University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
- Leena Malayil, University of Maryland School of Public Health
- Gili Marbach-Ad, University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
- Jianghong Meng, University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Shirley Micallef, University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Emmanuel Mongodin, University of Maryland School of Medicine/National Institutes of Health
- Rianna Murray, University of Maryland School of Public Health
- Masoud Negahban-Azar, University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Michael Pappas, University of Maryland Carey School of Law
- Salina Parveen, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences
- Robert Percival, University of Maryland Carey School of Law
- William Piermattei, University of Maryland Carey School of Law
- Mihai Pop, University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
- Amir Sapkota, University of Maryland School of Public Health
- Heidi Scott, University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities/School of Public Health
- Paul Turner, University of Maryland School of Public Health
A full list of collaborators is available at the following links:
How do the funds awarded from MPower support your research and help facilitate collaborations with other researchers?
We were very fortunate that the MPower funds were awarded around the same time that our new Global FEWture Alliance was launched via an institutional grant from the UMD Grand Challenges Grants Program. The MPower funds, in particular, are being used to help fund additional students and research supplies needed for our integrated research-to-action approach of the new Alliance.
What are the next steps for your research?
We hope to expand our Global FEWture Alliance to include more UMD, UMB, and UMES faculty members along with additional international partners such that we can have an even greater impact in terms of alleviating food, energy and water insecurity, protecting environmental and global public health, and bolstering community resilience to our changing climate.
To learn more about Dr. Sapkota’s work, please visit the following links:
To learn more about the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State (MPower), visit mpower.maryland.edu.