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UNT professor tackling global issues with $2.5 million grant

UNT professor tackling global issues with $2.5 million grant

UNT professor tackling global issues with $2.5 million grant
September 08
14:03 2019

Most grants from the National Science Foundation, UNT engineering department chair Shengli Fu said, fall around $300,000. For Miguel Acevdeo, however, the check read $2.5 million.

Acevedo, an electrical engineering professor and researcher at UNT, recently earned the engineering department its biggest grant to date. He received the grant for his research, which involves combating food insecurity through crop production by desalinating water and improving soil quality. This research, which he works on with students and professors at New Mexico State University and Colorado State University, earned him funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help kick off his five-year research plan.

“The idea is that over time, the soil will improve with the use of the salinated water and the microbial community,” Acevedo said.

Acevedo graduated with a Bachelor of Science and a master’s in electrical engineering. He pursued doctoral studies, he said, after becoming fascinated by how multidisciplinary engineering is and how it can apply to ecosystems and the environment. He has been a professor at UNT for the last 24 years and has received the Regents Professorship Award, which Fu said is a highly prestigious award from UNT.

“I love learning all the time, both by studying and by research and [love] to have the opportunity to teach others what I have learned and discovered,” Acevedo said.

Acevedo’s previous research involves ecosystem and crop models, soil hydrology, climate change and renewable power systems. He got the grant through writing a proposal to the National Science Foundation, one of the primary sources of funding for science academia. Fu, who is also a professor in the engineering department, has worked with Acevedo for a long time and said he is a role model for the department.

“He’s a very good collaborator and he knows how to lead a team,” Fu said. “He’s a very good man to listen to other parties and try to put the other professors to work together and build a very strong team.”

Through a process that combines food, energy and water Acevedo intends to use pilot plants to change the soil. The research project’s timeline is five years and will take place in New Mexico and southeastern Colorado. He hopes to develop these plants and desalinate, or remove salt from, the soil. In addition to increasing crop production, Acevedo said he hopes his research will improve overall environmental quality.

“The quality of the environment is improved because there is less soil degradation, better water quality,” Acevedo said. “Then part of the role of the crops will be to keep carbon in the soil instead of that carbon becoming [carbon dioxide] and going into the atmosphere.”

Acevedo’s background in both the engineering and geography departments at UNT has helped him to take on multidisciplinary research.

“My background in electrical engineering helps with the monitoring of the environment and the renewable power systems for electricity needed to grow the desalination appliance,” Acevedo said. “My background in environmental science helps to understand the interactions between the growing crops and the environment.”

Acevedo is working with a team of faculty and PhD students across the three universities. Staff research assistant at UNT, Breana Smithers, said it is important to realize that the problems addressed in the research are interrelated and therefore require a comprehensive solution.

“This research is important because it helps provide solutions to challenging contemporary problems such as provisions of water, food and renewable energy,” Smithers said. “Most importantly, this research provides an understanding of how all of these systems interact.”

Fu said this research could impact semi arid environments in a positive way. While food insecurity research may not be immediately helpful to places like Texas, it is essential for those areas.

“We hope that the results of the project may be applicable in other parts of the world where the same conditions apply,” Acevedo said. “[This] is a problem that occurs in the semi arid areas of the world, for example, the Middle East.”

While receiving a $2.5 million grant looks great for UNT’s engineering department, Acevedo said he is more concerned about using the money to pursue the preservation of resources and improve the quality of the environment. He said he is passionate about his research because of its potential impact on sustainability.

“I want [my research] to help provide a solution to pressing global problems,” Acevedo said.

Featured Image: Dr. Miguel Acevedo talks with doctoral student Sanjaya Gurung’s future plan for the solar energy harvester located in the Texas Conservatory. Image by: Isabel Anes

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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