Developing Sustainable Water Resources
Meet EPA Scientist, Jeff Yang, Ph.D.
Dr. Jeff Yang has extensive practical and hands-on water and environmental engineering experience in the U.S. and overseas. He has published more than 30 journal articles and books, and over 80 seminars, conference papers and presentations, mostly during his 7 years working at EPA. He holds a patent for detecting water contamination along with three other EPA scientists, and he recently provided assistance on bilateral scientific collaboration between the US and China to protect the environment.
Dr. Yang has a wide range of research interests in water science. His current focus is on climate change adaptation and sustainable water resources in smart urban growth.
How does your science matter?
I am working with my colleagues to answer questions about water sustainability in the time of changing climate and urban development. What are the long-term environmental effects of our current developmental approach and how can we make water resources development more sustainable? The questions challenge a lot of us – engineers and scientists - because answers require innovative thinking and the integration of multiple scientific fields.
My research activities at EPA have been in many areas of water resources: wastewater reuse, next-generation water systems, early warning for drinking water contamination, climate change impacts on water resources, as well as exploring methods to adapt urban water systems to climate change.
If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would you choose and what would you like to ask them?
I would choose Albert Einstein because he was such a visionary in science and scientific philosophy. The other would be late Professor J.S. Lee, a well-known scientist of the last century in China who established his theory of geomechanics by artful integration of mechanics with geotechnical engineering and tectonics.
Questions I would ask these two if they were alive today: what different approaches would they take and what new directions would they explore if the computing power was available to them as it is today? It would make their lives so much easier.
What do you like most about your research?
The aspect that I like most is the science exploration we do for comprehensive and effective systems solutions. And often times the research questions are challenging to our intellect. My colleagues and I recently faced the task of monitoring large and small water bodies, and came up with a solution by combining different types of satellite sensors to create synthetic satellite imagery for daily and timely water quality information. People in the water industry can use this to better operate their systems.
In another example, I have started working with General Electric to develop a smart water system. The new concept is to combine source water monitoring, water treatment, and water distribution into a single platform so that we’ll use less energy for better water quality and more sustainable water supply operations. This type of innovative research keeps me going and energized every day.
EPA is the right place to do that. It’s a very challenging and rewarding job.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in China. I went to the China University of Geosciences where I received my Bachelors degree in geomechanics. I went to the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing for my Masters degree in geochemistry, and worked at the China Geological Survey before coming to the United States, where I received another Masters degree in water resources and a Ph.D. in isotope geochemistry from Miami University in Ohio.
When did you first know you wanted to be scientist?
I grew up at a time in China when science and technology were highly valued, right after the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s in China. Science and technology were regarded as the best career paths. So from a young age, I was very interested in math and science.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be doing?
I don't know that there are many "ifs" in life! Life is a one-way street. I think I'd choose science again if I had another opportunity.
Any advice for students considering a career in science?
Science requires a lot of work. It can be dull at times, and there is a lot of personal sacrifice in the beginning. You have to ask yourself, am I really passionate about looking for answers, solutions, and ways to do things differently and better? If the answer is yes, I'd say that science is one of the best professions you can have.