Indian-American professor wins $625,000 MacArthur “Genius” grant

Washington, Sep 30 (IANS) Kartik Chandran, an Indian-American associate professor of earth and environmental engineering at Columbia Engineering, has been named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow with a “genius grant” of $625,000 with no strings attached.

Chandran, an IIT Roorkee graduate, has won the fellowship for his work in “transforming wastewater from a pollutant requiring disposal to a resource for useful products, such as commodity chemicals, energy sources, and fertilisers.”

He joins a distinguished group of 24 talented people who have all demonstrated exceptional originality and dedication to their creative pursuits, as well as a marked capacity for self-direction. The fellows may use the $625,000 stipend as they see fit.

“When I received the call telling me that I had been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, I was rather overwhelmed,” Chandran said.

“I’d just returned to New York from India after a 24-hour flight and couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

He called the fellowship a “great honour which carries with it immense responsibility and provides ever more motivation to continue expanding my scientific horizons and boundaries and help solve global societal and human challenges.”

Chandran’s research on the global nitrogen cycle and engineered wastewater treatment has been widely recognized.

In 2011 he received a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a transformative new model in water and sanitation in Africa.

His work is focused on integrating microbial ecology, molecular biology, and engineering to transform wastewater, sewage, and other “waste” streams from problematic pollutants to valuable resources in addition to clean water.

Chandran’s approach to transform wastewater into fertilisers, chemicals, and energy sources also takes into account today’s climate, energy, and nutrient challenges.

Chandran, who joined the Engineering School in 2005, has also won the Water Environment Research Foundation Paul L. Busch Award (2010), a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2009), and a National Academies of Science Fellowship (2007).

His appointments prior to joining Columbia include his role as a senior technical specialist (2001-2004) with the private engineering firm Metcalf and Eddy of New York, where he contributed to New York City’s efforts to achieve significant improvements to its water quality.

Chandran earned a BS (1995) from the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee (formerly University of Roorkee) and a PhD (1999) from the University of Connecticut.

The MacArthur Fellowship grants are awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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