As an undergraduate, Jairo Luque Villanueva researched wastewater treatment and water reuse under the direction of Environmental Resources Engineering Assistant Professor Andrea Achilli.

Villanueva’s passion to undertake this research was motivated by personal experience. He grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, where access to clean, safe drinking water was a luxury. As a result, he became interested in the biological, social, and economic issues surrounding international water scarcity, which affects about 1.2 billion people worldwide.

Villanueva and his student research partners designed and constructed a forward osmosis and membrane distillation system, a device that treats wastewater for potable use. The prototype is part of a larger research initiative in partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno, exploring low-energy, large-scale wastewater treatment. If successful, it could be adapted for full-scale use.

“My research experience as an undergraduate fellow allowed me to travel and meet student researchers, professors and engineers across the country,” notes Villanueva. “I encourage students to participate in undergraduate research, especially if they are considering graduate school.”

Villanueva was one of 33 students from around the country to receive a prestigious Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency. Fellowship recipients receive an internship and up to $50,000 over two years to fund their studies and research in the sciences and math.