Vanessa DeShambo, environmental engineer

Vanessa joined the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) in December 2021 as an environmental engineer. Prior to joining the ISTC team, she worked at the U of I College of Veterinary Medicine performing case work and research related to veterinary infectious disease with a primary focus on micro and molecular biology. She also spent her early career with the Allen Institute for Brain Science managing research on mouse genetics and neuroscience. Her research is currently focused on improvement of algal systems for wastewater treatment. Projects topics include hydrothermal liquifaction, nanofiltration, algal toxin destruction, bioaugmentation, and endoreduplication.

Vanessa recently answered some questions about her work.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at ISTC?
I’m relatively new to ISTC, and my primary research currently revolves around using algae to treat wastewater and producing biofuels from that algal biomass. I previously worked at the College of Vet Med, Veterinary Diagnostic Lab doing microbiology clinical case work for over six years. I also worked at the Smithsonian National Zoo and Allen Institute for Brain Science, so I have had a lot of different experiences in my career. I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology at St. Norbert College and my Master’s degree in natural resources and environmental science (NRES) from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I have a strong interest in microorganisms, plants, and animals so natural sciences are a great fit for me. I have two kitties and love to garden and play video games in my free time!

What drew you to your particular area of study?
While working at Vet Med I decided to further my education, and chose NRES because I still had a strong interest in the field, but wanted to continue working with microorganisms. I hope to mix my love of microbiology and environmental science to make a positive impact by coming to ISTC!

What tools are indispensable to your fieldwork?
For my work I have a mix of laboratory, project management, and pilot-scale field work. I could be sampling wastewater sludge, teaching a group of students, or I could be analyzing data on any given day. My most valuable tools are Evernote to keep myself organized, Excel to process data, sample vials, and a microscope!

What do you wish more people understood about your work?
That there is no perfect one size fits all solution to our problems. It takes many minds and many solutions to tackle big problems. I also wish people understood that microorganisms can have a big impact on an ecosystem, even though you can’t always see them at work.

This story first appeared on the People of PRI Blog. Read the original story.