Prairie Research Institute offers summer internships

In collaboration with the Graduate College’s Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP), PRI is offering hands-on summer internships that will enable undergraduate students from populations underrepresented in graduate study at Illinois to explore careers in applied science. This opportunity is open to students at any U.S. undergraduate institution. 

During the eight-week summer program, interns will be immersed in hands-on field and lab projects led by scientists from INHS, ISWS, and ISTC. Interns will also participate in professional and career development activities and will learn about the pathway to graduate study.

Each summer intern will receive a $4,000 stipend, funds to cover travel to and from Urbana-Champaign, and on-campus housing and meals, plus supplies for workshops and symposiums.

There are opportunities in atmospheric science and climate; biology, ecology, and environmental science; sustainable energy; and water supply and safety. To see all of the internship options and to apply, visit

The deadline to apply is Fri., March 3, 2023. 

Prairie Research Institute and The Grainger College of Engineering establish a joint initiative on sustainability engineering

By Tiffany Jolley (Prairie Research Institute) and Kim Gudeman (Grainger College of Engineering)

The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) and The Grainger College of Engineering are embarking on a new partnership to create a Joint Initiative on Sustainability Engineering beginning in Spring 2023. This collaboration will further the University of Illinois’ reputation as a nexus of engineering and science that fosters novel solutions for societal challenges, and will broadly include aspects of engineering, energy, health, and sustainability research.

“This partnership will open up new opportunities for research development on our campus and allow scientists from PRI and faculty from the GCOE to work together to find innovative solutions for important societal challenges. Students and postdoctoral researchers will greatly benefit from combining basic research with real-world problems,” said Praveen Kumar, Executive Director of PRI.

Together, PRI and Grainger Engineering aim to encompass joint research and development activity, sponsored funding, private sector partnerships, workforce development and training, and service to the State of Illinois and beyond. This partnership is expected to lead to growth in funding opportunities, and to support successful faculty, research staff, and student recruitment. 

“To make significant advancements in some of the most important challenges of our time, it will take a collaboration of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers working together to solve systems-level problems,” said Grainger Engineering Dean Rashid Bashir. “We are proud to partner with our colleagues across the university as we together pursue science that transforms our health and our world.”

PRI scientists and Grainger Engineering faculty who are doing research in the areas of engineering, energy, health, and sustainability, will jointly advise and mentor engineering graduate students and postdocs. Collaborating PRI scientists and Grainger Engineering faculty will serve as co-advisors of thesis/dissertation and research.

To achieve these goals, PRI and Grainger Engineering will work to create collaborative opportunities through shared research environments and facilities and jointly secure resources to enhance their national and international research and educational reputation, and share their successful collaborations.

This story first appeared on the PRI News Blog. Read the original story.

Prairie Research Institute provides millions in direct returns to Illinois’ economy

by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has had a positive direct economic impact on Illinois’ economy valued at $667 million for years 2018–2022 and has provided more than 5,300 full-time jobs in the state, according to a recent analysis at a U. of I. research center.

The study, conducted by Sandy Dall’erba, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and cofounder of the Center for Climate, Regional, Environmental and Trade Economics, identified the economic impact of PRI in 2022 values at the national, state, and county levels. PRI provides scientific research, expertise, data, and services to help policymakers, communities, companies, and individuals make sound decisions about our natural and cultural resources.

PRI received an initial investment of $131 million from the State of Illinois and the U. of I., enabling the institute to obtain grants and contracts totaling nearly $300 million over the five-year period. The impact of economic activity creates economic production, employment, labor income, and tax revenues.

At the state level, with an economic impact of $667 million and a total tax impact of $90.4 million at the state, federal, and county levels, each additional dollar spent in PRI returns $5.06 in economic value to Illinois.

At the national level, the economic impact was an estimated $1,071 million, 8,000 full-time jobs created, and tax revenues totaling $130 million. Champaign County also benefited significantly from PRI activities, with a $422.2 million impact on the county economy and 3,869 full-time equivalent jobs.

“This analysis shows that as a high-value institute, PRI has major direct and indirect impacts on the economy of the county, state, and nation,” said Praveen Kumar, PRI executive director. “Our excellence in research innovation, long-term data collection, and service programs reaches way beyond Illinois and the U.S.”

The economic analysis does not include the substantial value of PRI’s scientific expertise in geology, ecology and biologic diversity, archaeology, hydrology and water, weather and climate, pollution prevention, and sustainable energy. The five scientific surveys make up PRI, including the Illinois Natural History Survey, the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, the Illinois State Water Survey, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

PRI scientists are addressing some of the most challenging issues of our society. In recent research projects, scientists are exploring ways to store carbon dioxide in geologic features in Illinois, recycle flue gas to feed algae for animal feeds and biofuels, and capture CO2 from the atmosphere. Other projects seek to mitigate risks of natural hazards and disease-borne vectors, combat agricultural pests, address water resource problems and help communities find solutions, and protect ecosystems and cultural resources.  

“PRI is a national leader and a statewide gem,” said Susan Martinis, U. of I. vice chancellor for research and innovation. “From science that protects drinking water in Chicago to massive pilot-scale carbon capture projects funded by the Department of Energy in Springfield, Decatur, and Champaign, PRI has a direct impact on the lives—and the livelihoods—of millions of people across the region and around the globe.”

The report, “The Economic and Fiscal Impact of the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) on the Economy of Champaign County, Illinois, and the Nation” and a summary are available at

Media contacts: Lisa Sheppard,, 217-244-7270; Sandy Dall’erba,, 217-300-2727

This story was first published on the Prairie Research Institute News Blog. Read the original story.

Seeing an Indigenous settlement

Read the full story from the Prairie Research Institute.

Archaeologists from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS), part of the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) are responsible for locating and acknowledging the lands of Native Nations that are now part of the State of Illinois, as further echoed in the Office of the Chancellor’s Land Acknowledgement statement, “These … lands continue to carry the stories of these Nations and their struggles for survival and identity.” The full statement is available here.

Seven hundred years ago, a series of fortified Native American towns lined the Illinois River valley from north of Peoria, Illinois, to south of Havana, Illinois, each with a prominent townhouse or temple in the middle. A place locally called “the Heldenmeyer site” was one of these. Today, it covers 30 acres of an agricultural field.

Water Survey receives grant to sample wells in disadvantaged areas of Chicago

Read the full story from the Illinois State Water Survey.

Evan Rea, head of the Health and Environmental Applications Laboratory (HEAL) at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (U of I), was recently awarded a grant by the U of I Chancellor’s Office to sample private wells in the Chicago metro area. The Chancellor’s Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program provides $2 million annually to U of I researchers to support projects that address systematic racism and social justice, law enforcement and criminal justice reform, and disparities in health and health care.

Rea says that it is a great fit to look at the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health disparities in private well water quality, as well as to promote good well stewardship for well owners in an underserved area. 

Study tracks waterbird use of Chicago-area wetlands

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

A three-year study in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana found that – even at small scales – emergent wetlands or ponds support many wetland bird species. The study also found that, at least in the years surveyed, the level of urbanization had little effect on most of the studied species’ use of such sites, provided the right kinds of habitat were available.

EPA announces over $1 million in grant funding to University of Illinois for pollution prevention

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced over $1 million in pollution prevention, or P2, grants to the University of Illinois System. The University of Illinois Chicago Energy Resources Center will receive $350,000. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Smart Energy Design Assessment Center will receive $349,999 and the university’s Illinois Sustainable Technology Center will receive $349,197. These P2 grants are among 39 national grants made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s historic $100 million program investment. The grants will allow states and Tribes, or in this instance academic institutions, to provide businesses with technical assistance to help them implement P2 practices to prevent or reduce pollution before it is even created, while also reducing business and liability costs.

“Reducing pollution at the source, before it ever even enters the waste stream, is the best and most cost-effective way to protect the environment,” said EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore. “Thanks to these grants, and increased funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA is working with organizations like the University of Illinois System to empower communities and businesses to save money and safeguard precious natural resources.”

The University of Illinois Chicago Energy Resources Center will use its grant to provide technical assistance to 20 industrial plants in some of Chicago’s underserved communities. UIC-ERC, in partnership with the city of Chicago, will help facilities find and achieve energy and cost savings, emissions reduction, and waste reduction.

“UIC is excited to engage with the City of Chicago and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide technical assistance to manufacturing plants in the City of Chicago, including those areas of the City facing environmental injustice. The technical assistance program will focus efforts on student workforce development, reducing plant energy consumption and source emissions, and increasing plant productivity,” said Patrick Brown, senior research engineer for Energy Resources Center at University of Illinois Chicago.

“The City of Chicago congratulates the UIC Energy Resources Center for this major award from the USEPA dedicated to offering technical guidance to the industrial sector to transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions. This critical support will result in more energy efficient operations as well as reduced pollution and better air quality for our communities. We are thrilled to serve as collaborators in this effort,” said Angela Tovar, chief sustainability officer for the City of Chicago.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Smart Energy Design Assessment Center will use its grant to provide technical assistance and training for 260 businesses, including 80 businesses located in or adjacent to underserved communities.

“Green business programs are an innovative model for driving voluntary education and engagement in P2 best practices,” said Dr. Brian Deal, executive director of the Smart Energy Design Assistance Center. “They make it easier for businesses to assess and reduce their environmental footprint, while also providing recognition and a competitive platform for their achievements. SEDAC is thrilled to help integrate P2 technical assistance with national green business best practices.”

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Illinois Sustainable Technology Center will use its grant to host two training events, create a pollution prevention guidebook, and offer technical assistance to 15 Illinois manufacturing and processing facilities.

“The support that the ISTC Technical Assistance Program will provide to manufacturing operations and related industries will go a long way in reducing energy costs, water consumption, air emissions, wastewater generation, and hazardous wastes in Illinois,” said Debra Jacobson, associate director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. “At the same time, this project will benefit underserved neighborhoods by offering technical assistance to facilities that directly impact local environmental justice communities.”

Selected and awarded grantees will document and share P2 best practices they identify and develop through these grants so that others can replicate the practices and outcomes. Each selected grantee will address at least one of the National Emphasis Areas, which were established to focus resources and to create opportunities for information sharing among P2 grantees and businesses. Each selected grantee will also develop at least one case study during the grant period on P2 practices.

Read more about P2 and the P2 Grant Program.

Searching the Texas brushland for a rare, temperamental plant

The author hovers near a Zapata bladderpod specimen. Photo courtesy Sara Johnson

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

Deep South Texas is unique. It feels vast and nomadic, sprawling in all directions with hundreds of thousands of acres of ranchland and – if you don’t count the cows or the main thruways along the Rio Grande – sparsely populated. It’s a diverse region, thanks to the confluence of semi-arid and subtropical climates that meet in central South Texas to form a mixture of grasslands and extremely dry uplands.

The Zapata bladderpod is aptly named. It inhabits the Tamaulipan thornscrub, also known as mezquital, a dry ecoregion defined by shrubs and desertlike conditions, with seasonal marshlands and intermittent streams. As we search the dense thickets of shrubs and enormous prickly pear, Opuntia lindheimeri, I begin to think these plants don’t want to be found.

Webinar: What still challenges us to detect microplastics and nanoplastics in the environment?

Nov 10, 2022, noon CST
Register here.

Microplastics have been identified in many aquatic environments and are considered as sources and transport vectors for toxic chemicals (e.g., heavy metals and POPs) or pathogenic microorganisms. In our research group, we have been investigating the colloidal properties and photochemical aging/weathering of microplastics as well as the release of potentially toxic substances from the weathered microplastics. In this presentation, I will briefly introduce my own microplastic research and primarily focus on the introduction of challenges of microplastics and nanoplastics detection and identification due to their small sizes and interferences from size-dependent and extrinsic factors such as surface contamination or coating by organic matters or additives. I will also give an overview of the latest research results utilizing various of novel technologies/techniques for separation from environmental media (e.g., water or soil) and characterization. I will also introduce a few recent studies that demonstrated the use of scanning probe microscope, AFM combined with IR/Raman, sequential pyrolysis (Pyr-GC/MS) and thermal desorption pyrolysis (TD-Pyr-GC/MS) for ultrafine plastics particle analysis.

Speaker: Wen Zhang is currently an associate professor of NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with a second appointment in the Department of Chemical and Material Engineering. Wen is a licensed Professional Engineer (P.E.) registered in the States of New Jersey and Delaware. He is an American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES) Board Certified Environmental Engineer (BCEE). Dr. Wen Zhang’s research focuses on colloidal interfaces and processes that are crucial for environmental and chemical engineering applications. His research embraces environmental behavior and interfacial processes for nanomaterials, microplastics and soft particles such as microbes and bubbles, catalytic/reactive membrane filtration systems for desalination, resource recovery and emerging contaminant removal, photocatalysis, microalgal removal and harvesting. His lastest research also expands from agricultural applications of nanobubbles to lithium recovery from spent lithium ion batteries.

Synthetic chemicals found in over 8 million Illinoisans’ drinking water

Listen to the podcast.

Synthetic chemicals are pervasive in our everyday lives. They’re in many of the products we use like fast food wrappers, cleaning products and personal care items. Even when we’re done with those things, the chemicals live on, and the impacts of that are far-reaching. A Chicago Tribune investigation earlier this year found more than 8 million people in Illinois get their drinking water from utilities where at least one forever chemical has been detected. That’s six out of every 10 Illinoisans. 

The 21st spoke to a panel of guests to hear more about the study and learn about the impacts of emerging contaminants.


John Scott 
Senior chemist with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center

Sonya Lunder 
Sierra Club’s Senior Toxics Advisor for the Clean Water, Toxic Chemicals, and Climate Resilience Program

Michael Hawthorne
Investigative Reporter, Chicago Tribune

Melanie Benesh 
Vice President of Government Affairs, Environmental Working Group