After 39 years with UW CEE, Professor Mark Benjamin is retiring. Benjamin joined the faculty in 1977 and during his tenure has advanced water treatment research, founded a start-up, written two textbooks and assisted with humanitarian aid projects through Engineers Without Borders. In honor of his dedication and service, Benjamin was recognized and honored at a department celebration on June 9, 2016.
Benjamin joined UW CEE after earning his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Stanford University. Originally studying chemical engineering during his undergraduate and master’s degrees, Benjamin switched to environmental engineering after learning about the discipline from a friend who was studying environmental engineering.
“I was studying abstract things and a friend was applying the same ideas in a practical way,” Benjamin said. “So I went to meet my friend’s graduate advisor and decided to make the switch.”
Water Treatment Research
Over the years, Benjamin has become an expert on physical and chemical water treatment processes. His long-term research focus has specifically been on the removal of natural organic matter (NOM) from potable water, which originates when decaying plants are washed into water. In the 1970s, it was discovered that NOM reacts with the chlorine added to drinking water, resulting in formation of chloroform and other carcinogenic products.
“That became a big deal. Everyone was trying to figure out how to reduce it,” Benjamin said. “We didn’t want to stop using chlorine disinfectant, since it prevents cholera and other devastating waterborne diseases.”
Benjamin and his graduate students began to work on a solution to the NOM problem in the early 1990s. While working on an approach to prevent NOM from plugging up membranes, one graduate student, Yujung Chang, developed a process for removing the NOM from water. The UW patented that process while Benjamin and his students continued to advance it, and last year Benjamin and another student, Nathan Cai, founded a company called MicroHAOPS Incorporated to commercialize the technology. During retirement, Benjamin plans to continue his work with the start-up.
In addition to his research, Benjamin also has published two textbooks. The first, a widely adopted graduate-level textbook on water chemistry, was published in 2002. A second textbook was published in 2014, on water quality engineering and treatment processes.
“I hear that people find the textbooks useful, easy to read and reasonably rigorous,” Benjamin said. “The idea that my efforts have had an impact on students in other parts of the world is very satisfying.”
Benjamin has also been involved in the UW chapter of Engineers Without Borders since its inception in 2005. As an advisor for the team, which connects engineering students with projects in other countries that help meet basic human needs, Benjamin says his role is to be the “voice of experience” and encourage students to take each project a step at a time. In the past decade, the team has completed a variety of projects in Latin America, from installing cook stoves with chimneys to reduce indoor air pollution to installing irrigation systems that enable a second annual harvest to rehabilitating a fish hatchery to improve a community’s economic viability.
Benjamin is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship as well as several awards for best publications in various journals. He was a distinguished lecturer for the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) in 2009-2010, which entailed a lecture tour to 20 colleges throughout the U.S. Benjamin is also proud that four of his students have won awards for best doctoral thesis in environmental engineering from various societies.
Thank you, Mark, for 39 great years!