by William Schmitt
The world’s current battle against the COVID-19 pandemic makes this episode especially timely because our interview is with Professor Ernest R. (“Chip”) Blatchley III. His research deals with the preservation and disinfection of water supplies; his long-standing efforts to improve water purification in the U.S. and around the world through ultraviolet radiation and halogen chemicals such as chlorine may have implications for ridding water of the novel coronavirus.
Blatchley is the Lee A. Rieth Professor in Environmental Engineering, holding a joint appointment in the Lyles School and in Environmental and Ecological Engineering .
His lab research aims to assist in the generation of data about the impact of UV radiation on the newest coronavirus. Past efforts have uncovered beneficial impacts combating previously identified coronaviruses or other waterborne dangers. The research also takes into account the fact that UV and chlorine have proved to be complementary for disinfection purposes, for degrading toxic organic compounds. So, COVID-19 may present similar scenarios.
Blatchley sees Purdue providing a full range of capabilities from a number of disciplines that can benefit his areas of research. Environmental engineering is a broad and growing field, and it is inherently interdisciplinary. The potential for wide-ranging collaboration is one of the University’s great strengths, he says, noting that the opportunities for continuous learning are exciting for him and his students.
The Lyles School is involved in at least one of the Purdue Engineering Initiatives, or PEIs – namely, regarding increased capabilities for flight in cislunar space. Blatchley’s research lab has collaborated with NASA, among many governmental, corporate and academic organizations.
Education in civil engineering and environmental engineering has been evolving and will continue to do so, Blatchley says. COVID-19 will change a number of things, including teaching styles. Students have adjusted well to Purdue’s full transition to distance learning triggered by the pandemic. Already, before the health crisis, the College of Engineering was expanding virtual education opportunities, for example, with the development of affordable online master’s programs in civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and
Blatchley is writing a book about applications of UV radiation – at the core of lab research he has conducted over the years. He will develop a class related to the book, to be taught via distance education. UV radiation is used for disinfection differently around the world, so online learning will create opportunities for unusual conversations and valuable cross-boundary learning.