PULLMAN – Marc Beutel, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Deuk Heo, assistant professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science have both received prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER awards.
With the five-year, $400,000 award, Beutel and his research group are working to better understand how toxic mercury accumulates in lakes. Heo’s award will go towards developing a new generation of battery-free wireless sensors that will be powered by renewable energy sources.

Marc Beutel, assistant professor

Beutel surmises that dissolved oxygen pumped into the bottom of a lake may repress the ability of bacteria to transform inorganic mercury into toxic organic mercury in lake bottom water and sediments. This toxic heavy metal then accumulates throughout the aquatic food web and eventually is passed to people who eat fish. Using one of the Twin Lakes, near Inchelium, Wash., as a reference, Beutel’s group is using an engineered system to add pure oxygen gas to the other lake. The CAREER award provides funds for acquisition of sophisticated laboratory equipment to monitor mercury cycling and to perform related laboratory experiments. High school students from nearby Lake Roosevelt High School will participate in project-based activities related to mercury cycling including using a mobile laboratory to measure levels of the toxic metal in fish collected from throughout the Colville Indian Reservation.

“We will be working to promote American Indian high school student participation in authentic environmental engineering research and to ultimately recruit students into environmental engineering and science programs in the Pacific Northwest,’’ said Beutel.
Beutel holds a master’s and doctoral degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also a registered professional engineer in California.
Heo and his research group are working to improve the overall energy efficiency of

Deuk Heo, assistant professor

wireless sensors that have applications ranging from biomedical devices to infrastructure monitoring. Most wireless sensors are currently powered by batteries, which can be problematic when they are placed in a remote environment. The circuitry for sensors is bulky and wasteful, said Heo, so that much of the energy from the battery goes to powering the sensor rather than transmitting data. As a result, many sensors are limited in the amount of data they can transmit or how far they can send it. The researchers will be developing reconfigurable sensors that can use a variety of energy sources.  For instance, a monitor located on a bridge might be able to use the vibrational energy created by cars passing overhead.

Heo will be working with teachers at Pullman High School to recruit high school students for summer internships on the project. The researchers will also be working with the Palouse Discovery Science Center, to create a portable exhibition. Additionally, Heo will provide research opportunities for undergraduates on the project, both through the school’s senior design projects and through summer research experiences.
Heo holds a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a master’s degree from Po-hang University of Science and Technology, Korea, and a bachelor’s degree from Kyoung-puk National University in Korea.
According to the NSF Web site, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers the awards to junior faculty for outstanding research and integrated education and research efforts.