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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UNC Professor to Receive Prestigious Clarke Prize for Excellence in Water Research

The National Water Research Institute (NWRI) is pleased to announce that Dr. Mark Sobsey will be the twenty-third recipient of the NWRI Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for excellence in water research. Dr. Sobsey is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Consisting of a medallion and $50,000 award, the NWRI Clarke Prize is awarded each year to recognize research accomplishments that solve real-world water problems and to highlight the importance and need to continue funding this type of research. Dr. Sobsey’s leadership and contributions to the field were among the reasons cited for his selection as the prize’s 2016 recipient.


[Photo (l-r): Dr. Mark Sobsey will accept the National Water Research Institute’s Clarke Prize at NWRI’s annual meeting in November; A man in Cambodia examines a ceramic household water filter designed and tested by Dr. Sobsey and colleagues (photo by Joe Brown); Dr. Sobsey holds the compartment bag test (CBT), which he designed as a quick and portable way to identify E. coli bacteria in drinking water]

“Mark Sobsey has had a long and incredibly productive, innovative career,” said Dr. Michael Aitken, professor and chair of the Gillings School’s environmental sciences and engineering department. “He has been at the forefront of scientific and practical advances relevant to microbial water quality at every stage, and is sought by many for his expertise and insights. Remarkably, Mark continually zeroes in on key problems of the times and works creatively to identify solutions. It’s no surprise that students always have been attracted to his lab, because there they know they will be learning from one of the best.”

During his career, which spans more than 45 years, Dr. Sobsey has worked nationally and globally to improve water quality and public health. He has contributed particularly in efforts to understand, detect and control waterborne bacteria, parasites and viruses such as norovirus and hepatitis A and E. His efforts directly have influenced the development of guidance and policies by prominent public health safety organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and World Health Organization (WHO).

“Professor Sobsey is an outstanding choice for the Clarke Prize,” said Mr. Jeff Mosher, NWRI’s executive director. “His research has resulted in tremendous advancements in the water industry to improve water quality and minimize the risk of exposure to waterborne disease.”

Among his more recent work, Dr. Sobsey was awarded a pilot research grant in 2015 to evaluate waterborne highly antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARBs), considered “superbugs,” in Nicaragua and North Carolina. As part of this effort, Dr. Sobsey’s team is developing simple direct, culture-based methods to detect and quantify fecal ARBs that cause infections and illnesses in hospital patients and are being released into the environment through hospital sewage. These ARBs include but are not limited to types of E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, The goal is to establish methods to track these highly resistant bacteria through sewage treatment, in discharged sewage effluents and into the environment, as the basis of a harmonized monitoring system for their global surveillance to be established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and cooperating international health agencies.

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