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Engineering Professor Is the Fellow With All the Fellowships

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Sudarshan Kurwadkar, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cal State Fullerton, recently completed his Summer Faculty Fellowship Program at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. During his 12-week fellowship at the USAFA, he investigated STEM attrition among the academy cadets. He worked with Maj. Christopher Francis and Lt. Col. James Bowers to analyze the students’ graduation and retention rates over the past decade and how student demographics relate to science, technology, engineering and mathematics attrition at the USAFA.

Kurwadkar recently completed his five-year National Science Foundation-funded, $1.5 million grant project that aimed to increase graduation and retention rates among STEM students. He will lead a facilitated discussion on “Transformative STEM Education at Hispanic-Serving Institutions” at the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ 2023 Transforming STEM Higher Education Conference in November. His work at the USAFA is an extension and direct application of his research on this project over the past five years.

In 2022, he participated in the SFFP at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he investigated the application of density functional theory to expedite traditional groundwater remediation techniques. The DFT is a relatively new concept and has gained attention for its usefulness and direct application in solving environmental problems. He co-authored his findings in a manuscript, “Integrating Density Functional Theory Into Reductive Dechlorination,” which recently appeared in the journal Remediation.

In 2021, he received the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine fellowship and participated in the yearlong research at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The NASEM awards fellowships through the National Research Council Research Associateship Programs, which are prestigious senior research awards given to exceptionally talented postdoctoral and senior scientists and engineers through a rigorous selection process that allows the promising scientists and engineers with high-quality research opportunities at federal laboratories and affiliated institutions. During his one-year fellowship with the USEPA, he conducted original research, which resulted in the publication of three significant manuscripts in highly ranked peer-reviewed journals such as Science of the Total Environment and Geoscience Frontiers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kurwadkar continued his collaboration and actively worked with the Los Alamos National Laboratory through the VFP. He published a first-ever landmark study documenting the effect of barometric pressure variation on the subsurface movement of gases. The study has tremendous application not only for environmental remediation projects, but also in defense sectors. Specifically, the findings of this study may help detect clandestine nuclear explosions long after it has taken place, just by measuring the exsolution of noble gases post-nuclear explosion. In 2021, Geophysical Research Letters published this landmark study, “Continental-Scale Geographic Trends in Barometric-Pumping Efficiency Potential: A North American Case Study,” in its August issue.

He and one of his undergraduate students were selected for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency Summer Faculty-Student Partnership Project, “Chemical Agent Sensors,” at the Natick Soldier Center, Natick, Massachusetts. Since the faculty-student project was envisaged as an in-person activity, and all federal facilities were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the award was later canceled.

Kurwadkar has consistently obtained several Federal Summer Faculty Fellowships every year. In the last five years, he has obtained three SFFPs with the Air Force Research Laboratory, two with the Department of Energy through the Visiting Faculty Program, one with the Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel, one in Thailand as a Short-Term Visiting Scholar at Mahidol University.

Kurwadkar’s application to the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program is currently under review. His project, “Performance Evaluation of Membrane Separation Technologies for Removal of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances” will be the first-ever study conducted in the Gulf countries that extensively use the desalination process to obtain drinking water. PFAS is a global human health concern due to its ubiquitous presence in all environmental matrices, including drinking water. This study aims to conduct pilot-scale experiments on different membrane technologies to evaluate their efficacy for removing PFAS.

Kurwadkar is a recipient of the 2020 L. Donald Shield Award for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activities, and he continues to pursue research activities in the spirit of the award.

Sudarshan Kurwadkar