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UI professor recognized for work on water

BY JOSEPH BELK | APRIL 15, 2010 7:30 AM

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A University of Iowa engineering professor will be the recipient of a prestigious national award for excellence in water research.

The National Water Research Institute will announce next week that Professor Jerald Schnoor is the recipient of its Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize. Schnoor is the first UI faculty member to receive the award and its accompanying $50,000 prize.

Colleagues said Schnoor is unique because his activities aren’t limited to research; the UI professor supplements his lab work with extensive publishing and public-policy projects, including testifying before Congress and serving on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency board.

“That’s a challenge,” said Jeff Mosher, executive director of the National Water Research Institute. “We can have the best science, but unless it’s affecting public opinion, then it’s not as effective as it needs to be.”

As editor-in-chief of Environmental Science and Technology, Schnoor recognized the significance of his publishing endeavors.

“It’s important to write and publish to get your message out,” he said. “That’s a big part of my job, and it takes a large fraction of my time.”

The award recognizes Schnoor’s body of work, including research on acid rain, climate change, and water quality.

The Clarke Prize Executive Committee cited numerous reasons for its selection.

Roy Spalding, the head of the selection committee, said candidates were evaluated on their research contributions, active engagement in water issues, and societal effect.

“We saw Dr. Schnoor as one of the most outstanding individuals in water science — basically, in the world right now,” said Spalding, a professor of agronomy and horticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

As an institution, the UI is recognized for its work in water sustainability. Schnoor heads the UI’s Water Sustainability Cluster Steering Committee, which is working to hire 10 new faculty in that area by fall 2011.

Schnoor has worked for a slew of university, statewide, and national organizations.

He’s served a stint as the chairman of the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council and has worked with the UI Center for Human Rights.

“Believe it or not, climate change is an important human-rights issue,” he said.

In his office across the hall from Schnoor’s in the Seamans Center, UI Professor Richard Valentine echoed appreciation for Schnoor’s vast body of work.

“The guy’s a living Buddha,” Valentine said.

“He’s not getting an award for a single act,” he said. “He’s done seminal work in several areas that are so different that it’s hard to believe it’s one person.”

Schnoor also has obligations in the classroom.

UI graduate student Jeremy Bril, who is in Schnoor’s Sustainable Systems class, praised his teaching style.

“He has a great way of simplifying everything and encouraging discussion instead of just lecturing,” Bril said.

Other recent Clarke Prize recipients emphasized the use of clean energy, the effect of “dead zones” — ocean regions with low oxygen levels — and the use of waste water as a resource.

Schnoor fits in well with past recipients, Mosher said.

“The work that he’s done is really focusing on how we can sustainability use our resources and our water,” Mosher said.

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