Making potential health threats visible enables us to prevent diseases and outbreaks before they can escalate into epidemics and pandemics, whether caused by chemical or biological agents. Our global monitoring network also enables us to monitor and optimize the effectiveness of public health interventions in near real-time.  

Our team is creating an international control center to display and help protect the health and sustainability of global populations. We have developed the Human Health Observatory, a comprehensive community, state, national, and worldwide resource to advance public health and sustainability. We measure population health, consumption patterns, behavior, stressors and material flow in near real-time by analyzing biomarkers excreted by populations around the globe.  

  • Bioremediation of environmental contaminants. Our team conducts research and supports full-scale field deployments of bioremediation strategies for the removal of toxic pollutants from impacted soil and groundwater environments. This work includes the development of novel diagnostic devices for groundwater monitoring and remedial design.  
  • Pharmaceuticals, personal care products and emerging contaminants in the environment. We determine the fate of these chemicals in the environment, beginning with a characterization of sources such as wastewater treatment plants and ending with the characterization of the human body burden and biomarkers of exposure.
  • Environmental proteomics. The team develops and applies proteomic techniques for the detection and characterization of microorganisms, providing ecological services to mitigate public health threats.
  • Health effects of human exposure to toxic pollutants. Our researchers study the extent of human exposure to toxic pollutants and associated health effects by examining biological specimens from adults and children.
  • Phylogeography of RNA viruses. The lab explores approaches to merge viral genetics with climate and population data for zoonotic surveillance. We use in silico approaches for phylogeography to model spread of influenza and West Nile virus.  
  • Ebola and airline travel. Our massively parallel simulation infrastructure provides useful insight for decision support in times of Ebola outbreak by modeling human movement in planes and the spread of infections.  
  • Amplification and sequencing of influenza A viruses. We use molecular biology approaches to amplify and then sequence genes of influenza A viruses found in birds and humans. These sequences are then applied to phylogeographic models to assess influenza spread.
  • Biological risk assessment of pathogenic microorganisms. We use multiple culture-based and molecular biology methods, and develop risk models for informing complex engineering, regulatory and policy decisions related to the intersection of environmental engineering and human health.


To safeguard human health, our center has established capabilities and resources, such as leading diagnostics, a worldwide network, rich data and impact.  

These capabilities include:

  • State-of-the-art diagnostics for detecting and tracking chemical and biological threats.  
  • Network of more than 200 U.S. cities and 350 cities worldwide, covering 35 million people in the U.S. and over a quarter billion worldwide.  
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology and urban metabolism metrology data sources to help create a safer future.  
  • Economic models to assess the return-on-investment of interventions.  
  • High-throughput metagenomics sequencing pipelines to study biological threat agents.  
  • Quantitative risk-assessment models to analyze pathogen sequences generated from environmental sampling.

Support the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering

Detecting, minimizing and ultimately eliminating harmful chemical and biological agents