2018 D.W. Brooks Faculty Award for Excellence in Research
Professor, Department of Crop & Soil Sciences
Quinggou “Jack” Huang has built a career cleaning the water and soil of contaminants many people don’t want to think about.
In the last decade, Huang has become one the world’s foremost experts on using enzymes to break down some of the most persistent contaminants in the modern environment — namely hormones and perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAs) — organic compounds that are used in fire retardants and nonstick surfaces.
Because of their chemical structure, these compounds cannot easily be removed from drinking water during routine water treatment processes and they do not degrade naturally in the soil. Because of their persistence, they can build up concentrations in water and soil and pose a threat to ecosystems and human health.
Huang pioneered the use and study of enzymes to trigger chemical reactions that can break up the long-chain organic molecules in PFAs and hormones and allow them to break down into less harmful compounds, enabling their removal.
His work in the chemistry behind this process and its applications in water and wastewater treatment and soil remediation has resulted in a total of 39 high-quality journal publications since 2007. His work has not only deepened the understanding of environmental chemistry and engineering, it’s provided solutions to a range of pollution issues.
Huang came to the University of Georgia as an assistant professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences in 2007 after receiving his doctoral degree in environmental engineering from the University of Michigan.
Since then, he’s produced 135 publications and four patents. He is routinely recruited and funded by private firms and government agencies to develop remediation strategies or demonstrate his technologies on contaminated sites. He regularly presents at international conferences on environmental remediation and PFAs.
In addition to his research, Huang has mentored dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers and taught courses in environmental analysis and toxicology.