The Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize
"Nothing is more important than the careful stewardship and development of our water resources," said Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke, co-founder of NWRI.
Mrs. Clarke recognized the vital importance of water and strongly promoted better water science and technology.
In honor of Mrs. Clarke's vision, NWRI established the Clarke Prize in 1993 to honor outstanding individuals who have implemented better water science research and technology.
The Clarke Prize - a medallion and $50,000 award - is presented annually in the summer. As part of the award ceremony, the Clarke Prize recipient delivers the annual Clarke Lecture.
The Clarke Prize is:
- Distinguished by the International Congress of Distinguished Awards as one of the most prestigious awards in the world.
- One of only a dozen prizes that awards scholarly and practical achievements in water research.
- Awarded annually to an outstanding individual who is significantly contributing toward any of the following areas: the discovery, development, improvement, and/or understanding of the issues associated with water quality, quantity, technology, or public policy.
- Granted on the recommendation of the Clarke Prize Executive Committee.
- Not granted posthumously.
The 2012 recipient of the Clarke Prize is environmental engineer Pedro J.J. Alvarez, Ph.D., P.E., DEE, the George R. Brown Professor of Engineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Alvarez was selected as the 2012 recipient because of because of global leadership and contributions to enhancing water resource sustainability through water pollution control. With a focus on examining new technologies, his work has provided fundamental insight on a broad range of water industry challenges, but he is best known for his pioneering research in two fields: bioremediation and environmental nanotechnology.
Alvarez began his career in the mid-1980s, working on a U.S. Congress directive to evaluate environmental impacts associated with the deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles. This experience, which focused on assessing water supplies and treatment infrastructure at U.S. Air Force bases, inspired his passion to apply science, technology, and policy to protect water resources.
He moved on to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, which is where he first began to make advancements in understanding the practice of bioremediation, a water treatment process that involves using microorganisms, such as bacteria, to remove (by consuming or breaking apart) contaminants from water supplies.
Alvarez’s initial research focused on remediating groundwater aquifers impacted by hydrocarbons, organic compounds that naturally occur in oil. Fellowships and awards followed, as well as expanded research. Today, he is the author of two textbooks on bioremediation in soil and water (including the only one written in Spanish). The oil and gas company BP recently used his research to develop hydrogeology models to evaluate potential groundwater impacts from different types of biofuel blends.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach to remediation technologies, Alvarez later pioneered research on groundwater impacts associated with ethanol fuel releases, resulting in the development of guidelines for many states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the remediation and natural attenuation of groundwater impacted by leaking underground storage tanks.
He has also made significant findings in the area of phytoremediation (which uses plants to remove contaminants), such as discovering that trichloroethene (TCE), a chemical found in industrial solvents, can be taken up and transformed by plants irrigated with contaminated water. His work has earned him numerous awards from groups in both the U.S. and Latin America.
Since joining Rice University in 2004, Alvarez has taken the lead in evaluating the environmental impacts of nanotechnology, an emerging field that involves the uses of technology at the molecular level. The increased production and incorporation of nanomaterials into consumer products and applications has motivated Alvarez to study the fate, transport, and impact of a number of nanomaterials in the environment.
His unique approach includes examining both the benefits that may be produced from nanomaterials (such as using them to treat subsurface contaminants) and any possible risks these materials may later pose to human health and safety. He is also examining the response of microorganisms – essential to the food web and other natural systems – to exposure to nanomaterials. His papers on the subject of environmental implications of nanotechnology are among the most widely read and cited in the water industry.
- Watch the 2012 Award Ceremony on Video (Length: 18 minutes)
- Watch the 2012 Clarke Prize Lecture on Video (Length: 21 minutes)
- Download the 2012 Clarke Lecture by Pedro Alvarez (PDF)
- Click here for details about the next Clarke Prize Award Ceremony and Lecture.