Shaily Mahendra, a UCLA associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and a Samueli Fellow, has received the 2017 Paul L. Bush Award from the nonprofit Water Environment & Reuse Foundation, in recognition her groundbreaking research in developing promising environmental friendly technologies to remove pollutants from water.

The honor, awarded annually since 2001, is considered the top recognition in the field of water quality for early- to mid-career researchers. It includes a $100,000 grant for her research.

Mahendra’s research centers on environmental microbiology, looking to understand and control microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi and how they interact with their surrounding environment and other constituents, especially pollutants.

One of her newer interests looks at using enzymes, rather than live microbes, to kick start biochemical reactions that convert pollutants into harmless chemicals. To deploy those enzymes into the environment, she is looking at housing in nanoscale particles called “vaults,” which are naturally occurring in many organisms including humans. Vaults, discovered in the 1980s by UCLA biochemist Leonard Rome, have been explored for medical applications such as delivering therapeutics. Mahendra is pioneering the use of vaults for environmental applications – figuring out how they could be most effective in biodegrading pollutants.

Profile of the 2017 Paul L. Busch Award Winner Shaily Mahendra, from The Water Environment & Reuse Foundation

Mahendra joined the faculty of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2009. Her previous honors for her research include a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award; a DuPont Young Professor Award; a PopTech Science and Public Leadership Fellowship; and a University of California Hellman Fellowship. Mahendra has also been recognized for her teaching with UCLA Engineering’s Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award.

She has received major grants from the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, and various industrial sponsors for her research on emerging water contaminants .

The Water Environment & Reuse Foundation is a nonprofit (501c3) organization that formed in 2016, following the merger of Water Environment Research Foundation and the WateReuse Research Foundation.