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Two civil doctoral students receive best paper awards at Geosyntec contest

By Virginia Speirs

Published: May 6, 2022 10:00:00 AM

Sheng Dong and Pengfei Yan Sheng Dong and Pengfei Yan

Two civil engineering doctoral students, Sheng Dong and Pengfei Yan, won best paper awards in a student paper contest hosted by Geosyntec on April 8.

Dong placed first with her paper titled “Interplay Between 8:2 Fluorotelomer Alcohol Biodegradation and the Soil Microbial Community Under Nitrate-Reducing Conditions.” 

Her study was designed to assess the interactions between per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) biodegradation and soil microbial communities under conditions representative of aquifers using computational tools based on microcosm experiment results. 

PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals,” are a hot topic due to their persistence in the environment and harmful health impacts. PFAS can be found in various products like nonstick cookware, food packages and waterproof jackets, and have even been detected in the drinking water supplies.

“I was so excited to receive the award,” Dong said. “There is no doubt that the studies we are conducting are interesting and important.” 

Dong’s first-place prize includes an option of an all-expense-paid trip to the 2022 Battelle International Combined Chlorinated and Bioremediation Conference or a cash prize of $1,000.

Yan’s second-place paper, “Biotransformation of 8:2 Fluorometer Alcohol in Soil from Aqueous Film-Forming Foams - Impacted Sites Under Nitrate-, Sulfate-, and Iron-Reducing Conditions,” earned him $500. 

​​“Receiving this award from a company that I admire so much makes me really happy and grateful,” Yan said. “This award is an affirmation. It means that people appreciate what we are doing, and that motivates us to push a little harder.”

Both students work under Natalie Cápiro, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

“I am also grateful that my advisor encouraged us to participate in this kind of event, which connected me with some practitioners working in the industry and provided opportunities to have conversations with them,” Dong said.

Both credit Capiro with much of their success. 

“I am so thankful to my advisor Dr. Capiro for her continuous support and my colleagues for their hard work,” Yan said.

Geosyntec is a consulting and engineering firm that works with private and public sector clients to address new ventures and complex problems involving environment, natural resources and civil infrastructure.

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson,, 334-844-3591

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