Indian-American environmental engineer Kartik Chandran, left, has been named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow and given a 'genius' grant of $625,000 for working on a novel solution to the world's need for food, clean water and energy.
Chandran, 41, deals with wastewater treatment with the goal of producing useful resources such as fertilisers, chemicals and energy sources, in addition to clean water, in a way that takes into account the climate, energy and nutrient challenges being faced today.
An IIT Roorkee graduate, Chandran joins a distinguished group of 24 talented people who have all demonstrated exceptional originality and dedication to their creative pursuits, as well as a marked capacity for self-direction.
The fellows may use the $625,000 stipend as they see fit.
"Wastewater traditionally has been viewed as something negative -- something that we need to get rid of.
“To me these are not just waste streams, they are enriched streams," he said in a video on the MacArthur Foundation's website.
The Wall Street Journal said Chandran's pioneering work is a sort of modern-day alchemy, using microbial ecology, molecular biology and engineering to turn human waste into clean water and usable fertilizer.
Chandran's research is that certain combinations of mixed microbial communities, similar to those that occur naturally, can be used to mitigate the harmful environmental impacts of wastewater and extract useful products.
Currently an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University, he imaginatively tailors his solutions to be locally appropriate.
"It's not just a focus on clean water in isolation, but also on extracting fertilizer from the sewage and doing so on a small scale that can be used in rural areas, in developing countries, and he hopes, gain widespread use in city high rises," he was quoted as saying by the Journal.