Professor David Stensel is retiring from UW CEE after 32 years with the department. Stensel joined the UW CEE faculty in 1984 and has been an expert in biological processes in removing contaminants from wastewater, enabling cleaner water to be returned to the environment. In honor of his dedication and service, Stensel was recognized and honored at a department celebration on June 9, 2016.
“I feel privileged to have worked here at UW,” Stensel said. “I have had such wonderful graduate students and have been around top-notch faculty.”
Stensel received his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Cornell University. He joined UW CEE after teaching at the University of Utah for four years and working in industry for a decade. With an aptitude for math and science during high school, Stensel originally planned to become a math teacher, but became interested in the field of civil engineering during college, which led him to explore environmental engineering. At the time, emerging environmental water issues piqued his interest.
“I got into environmental engineering and it just clicked,” Stensel said.
Stensel is most well-known for his work on biological nutrient removal processes. With biological treatment processes, Stensel uses microorganisms in different reactors and designs, to break down organic substances in wastewater without the use of chemicals. Stensel has focused on phosphorus recovery as well as the biodegradation of estrogen compounds in wastewater treatment.
“I love working with organisms and building tanks,” Stensel said. “I love creating these systems.”
In recent years, Stensel’s research has expanded into the area of anaerobic codigestion for biomethane production. The anaerobic digestion of food waste has the potential to turn food waste into methane for use as a fuel source.
“Between 90-95 percent of food waste can be converted to methane,” Stensel said. “That is amazing.”
Stensel is the co-author of a textbook on wastewater engineering that is widely used in the classroom and by practicing engineers. Titled “Wastewater Treatment Engineering,” the fifth edition was published in 2014.
Over the years, Stensel has received numerous honors, including the ASCE Rudolf Hering Medal, the Water Environment Federation Harrison Prescott Eddy Medal, which he was awarded twice, and the Water Environment Federation George Bradley Gascoigne Medal. Last year, Stensel received the Frederick George Pohland Medal from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated practical research applications.
“The award meant a lot to me, since that’s what I’ve been trying to do,” Stensel said.
Stensel may be just as busy as ever during retirement, with plans to embark on consulting work as well as continue selected research projects. Thanks to a recent NSF grant, Stensel will be working on a new research project together with Assistant Professor Mari Winkler, with the goal of developing a new approach to biological wastewater treatment that may reduce the amount of space wastewater treatment plants consume.
He also hopes to devote more time to a few professional organizations, such as the Water Environment Federation and Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association. And, perhaps most rewarding, he will spend more time with his two grandchildren, ages 10 and 8.
Thanks for 32 great years, David!