Geomicrobiology Expert Yuri Gorby Joins Rensselaer as Blitman Professor of Engineering
New Faculty Researcher Known for Work at the Nexus of Environmental Engineering and Biology
October 24, 2012
Geomicrobiology expert Yuri Gorby recently joined Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as the Howard N. Blitman ’50 P.E. Career Development Professor in Engineering. He is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“Dr. Gorby is an innovative and integrative scholar in the field of environmental engineering who continues to push the frontiers of his field. We are excited to welcome him as the Howard N. Blitman ’50 P.E. Career Development Professor in Engineering,” said David Rosowsky, dean of the School of Engineering at Rensselaer. “Yuri is an impassioned researcher, a thoughtful academic, and he will bring new expertise and energy to our Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.”
Gorby’s interdisciplinary research is at the nexus of environmental engineering and biology. An accomplished microbial physiologist and bioprocess engineer, his work embraces the use of controlled cultivation to understand the fundamental properties of bacteria for a range of applications. These include remediating contaminated water, developing alternative energy resources, and mitigating the impact of microbes on corrosion.
Using controlled cultivation techniques, Gorby helped discover “bacterial nanowires,” which are electrically conductive protein filaments that can be created in diverse microbial systems. In one study, he is investigating how to facilitate the creation of a large grid of these bacterial nanowires in underground landfills. This kind of grid could potentially enable researchers to capture electricity from the bacterial colonies inhabiting the landfill, while significantly reducing the amount of methane created and released. This work is helping to advance the emerging multidisciplinary field he calls “electromicrobiology.”
At Rensselaer, he seeks to build upon the university’s long history of geomicrobiology, a field Gorby said was first introduced to the United States by Henry Ehrlich, professor emeritus in the Department of Biology at Rensselaer. Gorby said he plans to partner with researchers from across the Rensselaer academic spectrum, and apply his knowledge of coupled biogeochemical processes to address issues related to the short- and long-term implications of high-volume hydraulic fracturing for human health and the environment.
“Geomicrobiology and electromicrobiology are fascinating fields, with rich potential for making important basic science discoveries as well as industry-focused technologies with significant environmental benefits,” Gorby said. “I am excited to join the School of Engineering at Rensselaer, and I look forward to working with faculty members and students from many different disciplines to explore these exciting new environmental engineering concepts.”
Gorby earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Bethany College, and his doctoral degree in microbiology from the University of New Hampshire. He served as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., and the U.S. Department of Energy-funded Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.
He joined Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as a senior research scientist in 1993, a position he held though 2006. From 2006 to 2011, he served as assistant professor at the J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit genomics institute in San Diego. In 2011 he joined the Department of Marine and Environmental Biology at the University of Southern California as an associate research professor.
Gorby has published more than 50 research papers with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, NASA, and other organizations.
An active member of the American Society for Microbiology, Gorby also served on the international committee of the International Symposium for Environmental Biogeochemistry. Additionally, he is an associate editor of Geomicrobiology Journal and has organized many workshops and symposia dedicated to controlled cultivation as an important component of microbiology research.
The Blitman Chair is among the five named School of Engineering endowed professorships awarded this year. Along with Gorby, rotorcraft expert Farhan Gandhi was named the Rosalind and John J. Redfern Jr. ’33 Professor of Engineering; fluid dynamics expert Miki Amitay was named the James L. Decker ’45 Endowed Chair in Aerospace Engineering; nanomaterials expert Nikhil Koratkar was named the John A. Clark and Edward T. Crossan Professor of Engineering, and nanotechnology expert Linda Schadler was named the Russell Sage Professor. An endowed professorship is among the highest honors bestowed upon a faculty member at Rensselaer.