Environmental Biotechnology

We manage microbial communities that provide services to society. Most of the services make our society more environmentally sustainable. The microbial services also make humans healthier – directly and indirectly.

The Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology manages microbial communities that provide services to society. Most of the services make our society more environmentally sustainable: e.g., generating renewable energy, and making polluted water and soil clean. The microbial services also make humans healthier – directly and indirectly.

Research in the Swette Center seeks to gain deep understanding of the microorganisms and how they work together in microbial communities. The researchers apply the most advanced tools of molecular microbial ecology, chemistry, microscopy, and mathematical modeling so they think like the microorganisms. Armed with this deep understanding, the researchers then apply advanced engineering methods to create systems that work for the microorganisms so that they work for us. This approach establishes a win-win partnership between the uniquely talented workers – the microorganisms – and the wise managers – the environmental biotechnologists.

Partnering is not just with microorganisms. The Swette Center is famous for its culture of cross-disciplinary and team-base research. This culture begins with our diverse set of researchers who come from many disciplines within engineering, life sciences, chemistry, and more. For example, graduate students join the Center from eight Ph.D. programs on the ASU campus: three in engineering (environmental, chemical, and biomedical), three science disciplines (microbiology, environmental life sciences, and chemistry/biochemistry), and two inherently inter-disciplinary programs (sustainability and biological design). The Center organizes it research through collaborative teams. Some teams are applications based, such as microbial electrochemical cells, photobioenergy, and bioremediation. Other teams are more methods based, such as mathematical modeling and molecular microbial ecology. Please learn more from the links to our research groups. What is very important about our teams is that they interact extensively. Researchers often are on more than one team, and several teams usually work together to form a hyper-team for a research project.

Partnering extends far outside the Swette Center. Our projects regularly involve ASU faculty and students in Microbiology, Sustainability, Chemistry/Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Geotechnical Engineering. We have collaborations with universities throughout the United States and abroad. These collaborations involve joint projects and hosting many visiting scholars. For example, our current and recent visiting scholars are from Spain, France, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, Korea, Brazil, and Mexico.

One more hallmark of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology is that we link fundamental research with practical application. In short, we always work to make research meet practice. The first part of our strategy for making research meet practice is that we design our research projects so that they address mechanistic fundamentals that are going to have the biggest impact on an applications’ success. Practical experience informs the directions of fundamental research, while mechanistic results directly improve process design and operation. The second part of our strategy is that we partner with key practitioners, the ones who will put the fruits of our research to good use. We have on-going partnerships with the leading environmental engineering consulting firms, such as CDM-Smith and CH2M-HILL. Likewise, we work closely with technology companies to test and commercialize systems based on our research work. Good examples include our spin-out company ARBsource, APTwater, OpenCEL, and Siemens Water Technology.

The Swette Endowment

In January 2011, the Center for Environmental Biotechnology became the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology. This naming honors Brian Swette and his family for their exemplary support of sustainability at Arizona State University. 

Mr. Swette is a member of the Board of Directors of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS). An honored alumnus of ASU, Mr. Swette has had an enormously successful career in business, including being a founding member of E-Bay and CEO of Burger King. Mr. Swette and his wife Kelly are devoting themselves to their current business endeavor: Sweet Earth Natural Foods, which produces wholesome and tasty good that is based on seitan.

Center for Environmental Security

In August 2013, Dr. Rolf Halden founded the Center for Environmental Security in the Biodesign Institute. Prior to the founding of his new center, Dr. Halden was a professor in the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology. The Center for Environmental Security was the first "spin out" center in the Biodesign Institute. Its research deals with the fate of environmental contaminants in the environment and how they affect environmental quality and human health.

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