UofM’s Dr. Maryam Salehi receives $453,144 NSF CAREER Award

April 14, 2021 — Dr. Maryam Salehi, assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering in the Herff College of Engineering, was recently awarded a $453,144 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for her project titled, “An Investigation of Microplastics Fate and Contaminant Transport in Storm Runoff, The Nexus of Environmental Engineering and Material Sciences.”

“I am so excited and honored to receive this NSF CAREER Award to study the microplastics fate and contaminant transport behavior in stormwater runoff,” said Salehi, principal investigator (PI) on the project.

The use of plastics in consumer products and materials results in the release of small particles of plastic known as “microplastics” that can pollute the environment. These microplastics are persistent in the environment and will typically take hundreds of years to completely decompose. 

Microplastics can be transported through water, air or the food web following ingestion and uptake by animals and other organisms. In addition, microplastics can also absorb toxic pollutants, causing them to spread further and faster in the environment, including the world’s oceans. 

Although a majority of microplastics in marine environments originate from inland sources, the relative importance of microplastic pollutants released in urban storm runoff to surface waters is still poorly understood.

“The goal of this NSF CAREER project is to utilize interdisciplinary research of material science and environmental engineering to close the critical knowledge gap on the environmental degradation of microplastics and how they facilitate the transport of heavy metals in urban stormwater,” said Salehi.

“This investigation represents one of the first efforts to develop a comprehensive mechanistic understanding of the physical and chemical processes that control microplastic fate and contaminant transport in stormwater. Our research results will inform water managers, practitioners, policymakers and other stakeholders in Tennessee on the presence of microplastics in stormwater, and ways to combat the problem by developing of effective stormwater management strategies.”

Dr. David Ladner, associate professor in Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences at Clemson University, will contribute to this project by analyzing the surface charges of microplastics.

“Dr. Salehi’s research will have such a positive impact on our environment, and at the same time, work to advance scientific literacy and improve our STEM workforce," said Dr. Rick Sweigard, dean of the Herff College of Engineering. “This NSF CAREER Award supports the creation of educational materials for K-12 educators delivered through annual teacher workshops with the goal of educating students on plastic pollution and inspiring students to pursue careers in environmental engineering and science.”


The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.