Water-treatment expert hailed as ‘one of the top academic researchers in the world’
CLEMSON — A Clemson University professor who was called “one of the top academic researchers in the world” and whose long career has helped provide clean water to the globe is bringing home one of his profession’s top awards.
Gary Amy is the winner of the A.P. Black Research Award. The honor comes from the American Water Works Association, the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water.
Amy serves as the Dean’s Distinguished Professor in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences. He is also coordinator of the Water-Energy Consortium in the college.
A career spanning more than 40 years has taken him around the world from Colorado to Saudi Arabia, always in search of new technological breakthroughs to provide clean water to a thirsty world. His work has helped influence U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules.
Amy’s peers said he is skilled at combining his keen understanding of process as a civil engineer with advanced fundamental science to make new discoveries.
The award recognizes “outstanding research contributions to water science and water supply rendered over an appreciable period of time.”
According to a citation approved by the association’s board of directors at its 2017 winter meeting:
“Dr. Amy is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of membranes and water, with a scholarly publication record which places him as one of the top academic researchers in the world.
“Not only is Dr. Amy’s record of producing innovative research stellar, but also his approach to fundamental questions in water research have been innovative and, at times, ground-breaking. His research efforts have included disinfection by-products, natural organic matter, membrane technology, natural systems, appropriate technologies for developing countries, and innovative desalination technologies.”
Early in his career, Amy did pioneering work at the University of Arizona on disinfection byproducts, the chemicals that result when chlorine or other disinfectants react with naturally occurring matter. Later research focused on the characterization and control of natural organic matter.
At the University of Colorado, Amy began to focus on membrane processes for water treatment. Membranes are used to filter salt and contaminants out of water. A continuing challenge for researchers is how to keep the membranes from becoming clogged with foulants.
Amy was among the first to identify bipolymers as the most problematic organic-matter foulants in water and wastewater membrane processes.
Amy later became the Professor of Water Supply Engineering at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands. There, he worked to develop natural treatment systems, such as soil-aquifer treatment and river bank filtration.
His career later took him to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, where he began leading the development of low-energy desalination techniques that have a low carbon footprint. He established and directed the university’s Water Desalination and Reuse Center.
Philip C. Singer, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said that Amy’s work has had an impact on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules governing disinfection byproducts (DBP).
“The predictive models for DBP formation developed by Gary and his students have been a major component of EPA’s DBP rules and have been used extensively by utilities, consultants and researchers in development compliance strategies and assessing various process changes and new technologies for DBP control,” Singer said.
Three of those writing letters in support of Amy receiving the award had previously won the award themselves.
Paul Westerhoff, senior adviser to the Arizona State University provost on science and engineering, called Amy “a star among stars.”
“He is a research scientist of the highest caliber and commands respect within and beyond his field,” Westerhoff said.
Amy has been principal or co-principal investigator on more than $6.5 million in grants and contracts. He has published 463 peer-reviewed papers and graduated more than 50 Ph.D. students. Many of his former students have gone on to prominent academic and industrial positions in the United States and East Asia.
“It is an honor to be recognized by my peers,” Amy said. “I thank those who nominated and selected me. Any success that I have achieved is because I have been very fortunate to work with a great group of Ph.D. students as well as talented faculty colleagues from throughout the world.”
Amy is currently a faculty member in Clemson’s environmental engineering and Earth sciences department, where David Freedman is department chair.
“Dr. Amy is highly worthy of this honor,” Freedman said. “His peers recommended him for the award in the strongest possible terms, which is a reflection of how highly regarded he is. Dr. Amy is a pioneer and global leader in water and wastewater treatment. Having him at Clemson helps us raise our profile in this field.”
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Amy on the award.
“The A.P. Black Research Award is a testament to Dr. Amy’s leadership and is well-deserved,” Gramopadhye said. “He is a preeminent researcher in water science and water supply.”