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Interview with Joan Rose, winner of the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dr. Joan Rose – winner of the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize – is an international expert in water microbiology, water quality and public health safety at Michigan State University. Professor Rose and her team, whom she calls “water detectives,” investigate waterborne disease outbreaks globally to determine how they can be stopped, and prevented. 

As part of the Water Institute’s WaterTalks lecture series, Professor Rose will be at Waterloo on March 30, presenting “Monitoring Pathogen Concentrations in Sewage to Inform Treatment Goals and Public Health Risks." This talk will examine treatment performance under typical and high flow conditions, new risk assessment and microbial methods, and the development of protective, science-based public health criteria.

The Water Institute had the opportunity to speak with Professor Rose on these topics and more. 

Joan Rose

What are you working on right now? 
I am working in four areas. The first is using third generation sequencing to explore the water environment. The second is large-scale surveillance for source tracking markers and pathogens. The third is removal of viral and protozoan pathogens by wastewater treatment and the fourth is quantitative microbial risk assessment.

How do you see your research being applied in the future?
I am hoping that we will move into a future where “water diagnostic” methods are used around the world to determine the status of the health of the water environment. With this knowledge, better choices will be made to treat polluted flows.

What are the challenges that lie ahead in your area of research? Monitoring is very expensive so we need to find a way to use the data we have and models to examine spatial and temporal water quality degradation. If we don’t do this, I fear for the biohealth of our planet.

Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve experienced, or that lie ahead, in your research about the City of Toledo Bayview Water Reclaimation Plant Pathogen Study?
Here the City has put into place innovative High Rate Clarification to treat high flows (wastewater and stormwater). While setting up this pathogen study was a challenge for all of us at the facility and in the lab, by working together we are developing one of the best data sets demonstrating not only the technology but the optimization of the processes to be assured we are controlling pathogens

What made you decide to starts the Rose Labs at Michigan State University?
I have always run a water quality laboratory as a part of setting up a research program. But here at Michigan State University, I had the opportunity to develop an advanced technologies testing program. We were also able to train students and, more importantly, we have helped to develop a network of water diagnostic laboratories throughout the state. 

What’s next for your research?
We are developing field-based and rapid testing programs using hand-held genomics, so that is very exciting. Through the Global Water Pathogens Project (GWPP) we hope to produce maps that can show the risk of waterborne disease for numerous pathogens.

You are a successful female scientist and innovator. How can we encourage more women to get involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects?
Well, I try to lead by example and make myself accessible to women groups as well as individuals. We must continue to have conversations about how we encourage young girls and young women to try the STEM professions. It is not something we can say ok we “fixed” that problem. It must be part of our on- going programs.

We need to show examples of successful women scientists, not so much their accomplishments, but their struggles and their pathway. Everyone has challenges and demonstrating that shows others that you can do it too. I want women to know that there is a network out there a community they can be part of. 


Professor Joan Rose will be delivering her talk on March 30, 2017 in the Science Teaching Complex (STC), Room 1012 at 2:30 p.m.

Reserve your spot to hear her speak.