| AWWA Member Spotlight – Julian Fairey, Fayetteville, Ark.
AWWA Articles

AWWA Member Spotlight – Julian Fairey, Fayetteville, Ark.

Julian FaireyJulian Fairey was recently awarded a $755,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a new monitoring method for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water on U.S. military installations. 

Occupation: Associate Professor, Civil Engineering, University of Arkansas

Education: B.S., Civil Engineering, University of Alberta Edmonton; M.S. and Ph.D., Civil Engineering, University of Texas Austin (UT); post-doctoral research, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.

When did you begin studying organic contaminants in water? Ray Loehr was my M.S. advisor at UT, where I assessed biodegradation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in soils. For my Ph.D., I studied drinking water disinfectant chemistry and sorption of organics under the supervision of Lynn Katz and Jerry Speitel. I enjoyed the lab work and discovery aspect of data analysis. The application to drinking water treatment afforded the possibility to improve the quality of a critical resource that everyone relies on daily, which has sustained my continued interest.

Julian FaireyDescribe your recent award of a $755,000 grant to research PFAS monitoring: I was able to leverage my background in sorption of organic contaminants to obtain research funding through the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), a DoD environmental research program. This is a three-year project to develop and validate a passive sampling device for a suite of PFAS compounds in groundwater and surface water at DoD installations. Our approach involves re-engineering the components of a Diffusive Gradients in Thin-films (DGT) passive sampler to accommodate the challenges posed by PFAS.

What led to this opportunity? A faculty colleague at the University of Arkansas – Lauren Greenlee, who I knew from our grad school days at UT – dropped by my office one day with the SERDP Request for Proposal and said something like, “Julian, this is for you!” The seeds for the award were planted during my Ph.D. research, when I studied the chemistry of engineered sorbents, and my post-doctoral research working with materials that could be integrated into passive samplers. I developed the DoD proposal with another UT colleague, David Wahman, who works at the U.S. EPA in Cincinnati and is a technical advisor on the project. My network of UT colleagues has been essential throughout my career.

Julian FaireyWhat do you hope to accomplish in your PFAS monitoring research? DoD needs passive sampling devices to characterize PFAS contamination at their installations at a lower cost and higher reliability than would be achievable with traditional grab sampling. Success for my project would be a laboratory-validated DGT passive sampler for PFAS that can subsequently be assessed in field trials at DoD sites.

How have you benefited from membership in AWWA? I joined AWWA in graduate school for the opportunities to speak at the Water Quality Technology Conference (WQTC) and publish in Journal AWWA. I am now a regular at WQTC, which has proven to be a reliable venue for Texas Longhorn reunions! My graduate students speak at WQTC nowadays, which is a wonderful way for them to get feedback from experts across the country and help build their professional networks.

Julian Fairey playing pianoDescribe your outside interests: My life was pretty tame pre-COVID and hasn’t picked up much since March. I run every morning in my beautiful neighborhood in Fayetteville and read most evenings -- Cold War era non-fiction at the moment and The New Yorker. I play the piano and am a beginner bread baker (two loaves of French bread are rising at this moment!). My wife, Ashley Pifer, and I do crossword puzzles, watch mysteries on Netflix, and venture out for a hike now and then. Otherwise, we are busy with work, mainly to save money for our next house repair!

What would people be surprised to know about you? Despite having gone to school in big cities and enjoying the restaurants and night-life that come with it, I love living in a college town. I am very fortunate to work at the University of Arkansas and call Fayetteville home.