Camden native receives award for research, hails hometown support, encouragement

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CAMDEN — Camden native Joseph Goodwill has been awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER Award worth $500,000 award to study the effects of ferrate and sulfite to develop an advanced water treatment method.

Goodwill was born and raised in Camden, with what he called a wonderful childhood. He went on to LaFayette College in Pennsylvania.

“Coming out of Camden, I was a decent football player, and I wanted to pursue that in college and had the opportunity to play and get an undergraduate degree in civil and environmental engineering,” Goodwill said.

From there, Goodwill obtained a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in environmental engineering. Goodwill’s focus for his doctorate was around a form of iron called ferrate that could have applications in water treatment. Goodwill went on to work in academia at the University of Rhode Island and has been there for four years.

“At the time, very little was known about ferrate in water treatment,” Goodwill said. “I spent a few years evaluating that. And when I started my research program in Rhode Island, I realized there was still a fair amount of unanswered questions around ferrate.”

Goodwill wrote a proposal to the National Science Foundation to answer these questions and how it could be applied to rural areas in need of water treatment that not only works, but is cost-effective.

“It spoke to my heart,” he said. “There’s a problematic gap in the United States between urban and rural water systems. Rural water systems have drinking water violations at a rate that’s higher than urban system. And that’s a gap that’s increased over the last 15 years. And it’s something I don’t find acceptable.”

The NSF liked Goodwill’s idea and agreed to fund the project. Work will begin at Goodwill’s laboratory over the next five years.

Goodwill said one of the drivers for the drinking water violation gap between rural and urban — in his opinion — is the education factor. “There’s an inherent complexity in existing water treatment approaches,” he said. “The tools that are available to treat emerging contaminants require auxiliary systems that are often inappropriate for smaller or more rural areas.”

In Boston, MA, Goodwill said, water treatment is done using ozone. “That’s great and works well for Boston, but requires significant auxiliary systems such as air handling, air dehumidifiers, power supplies, cooling, ozone production units, and ozone deconstruction units.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation and something like this wouldn’t really work for Camden,” Goodwill said. “There’s complexities there that can be prohibitive. That’s why I’m pursuing ferrate, because I think it will have similar performance to some of these more complex water treatment approaches, but in a way that’s operationally simple that rural and small systems may find more appropriate.”

More study and work needs to be done, but Goodwill said that there’s preliminary data that was submitted to the NSF with their proposal that is promising.

“We have data that strongly suggest that this approach using ferrate will work,” Goodwill said. “But what we don’t know is the fundamental chemistry of how it’s working. We can look at the results and say they’re positive, but until we know exactly what’s going on from a chemistry standpoint, we can’t fully optimize or leverage this approach in water treatment.”

Over the next few years, Goodwill will answer how these positive results are being seen and if anything can be done to improve it.

Until then, Goodwill and his team will get to work on the question — with Goodwill thankful for what he grew up with.

“I’m thankful for my hometown and the education I grew up with and the support network I’ve had,” Goodwill said. “When you get a career award, you get the attention, but a lot of people had to make investments in me to make this possible. My science teachers, math teachers, my mentors, my coaches.”

In a small community like Camden, he continued, everyone has an impact on the community and its members. “It’s a proud moment for me and I’m excited, but I hope folks in Camden also feel this as a point of pride.”

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