Matrix New World Engineering - Woman of the Year
Company: Matrix New World Engineering, Florham Park, NJ
Company Description: Matrix New World Engineering, is a leading woman-owned full-service engineering and environmental services firm that provides scientific and engineering expertise for a wide range of projects from infrastructure improvement, climate change resiliency, ecological restoration, and contamination studies in the United States and overseas. The NJ-based company has offices in NJ, NY, AZ, LA and TX.
Nomination Category: Individual Awards Categories
Nomination Sub Category: Woman of the Year - Technology
Nomination Title: Laurie LaPat-Polasko, Vice President/National Director of Remediation
Describe for the judges the activities and accomplishments of the nominated woman since the beginning of July last year (up to 525 words):
It’s rare to find someone who admits to loving bacteria or fungi, and maybe just as difficult to believe that these microbes, some of the smallest animals on earth, can have a huge impact on cleaning the environment. Yet, ask Dr. Laurie LaPat-Polasko how she feels, and she enthusiastically responds, “They are my heroes!” A Vice President at Matrix New World Engineering, Laurie searches the world, discovering and using microbes to biodegrade harmful contaminants in groundwater, surface water, and soil. After isolating a bacterium that now bears her name, the microbe Pseudomonas LP, which biodegrades methylene chloride, a probable human carcinogen in groundwater, Laurie developed a passion for identifying and developing innovative ways to clean our planet. Combining her knowledge of biology, environmental engineering, and microbiology, she develops and designs an innovative “bioremediation” approach to clean contaminated sites, creating a green, cost-effective method to degrade diverse contaminants, such as chlorinated solvents, explosives, fuel compounds, and emerging contaminants.
Since July 2017, Laurie has used bioremediation to degrade toxic and/or carcinogenic compounds at complex contaminated sites worldwide. To develop and design the effective in situ bioremediation system, Laurie evaluated and understood environmental conditions required to promote biodegradation of hazardous compounds in the water or soil, and her knowledge of geochemistry, hydrogeology, contaminant transport, microbiology, and molecular biology, enabled her to create the innovative bioremediation approach to biodegrade toxic contaminants. Laurie performed laboratory and field-scale testing to determine the best methods for biodegrading contaminants, including chlorinated solvents used extensively on military sites, and in the electronics and dry-cleaning industries, and this year, Laurie implemented in situ bioremediation systems at sites worldwide, from New Jersey to Arizona and Brazil, for the chlorinated solvents trichloroethene (TCE), dichloroethene, and vinyl chloride, a human carcinogen.
Laurie also conducted studies within contaminated site wells at a TCE-contaminated site in Pennsylvania, determining if “biostimulation” and/or “bioaugmentation” would promote complete degradation of these dangerous compounds in groundwater. Biostimulation involves injecting a food source to enhance the native microbes. Bioaugmentation involves injecting non-native bacteria to biodegrade specific contaminants. The results showed that both technologies were required to promote complete degradation of the contaminants. At the site, Laurie injected a simple sugar-like biodegradable carbon source to promote rapid growth of the native microbes. Then, Laurie injected a slow release carbon source, similar to vegetable oil, providing a sustainable food source for the microbes. After the native microbes flourished in the groundwater, they promoted anaerobic conditions, enhancing the biodegradation of the TCE. To sustain complete biodegradation of TCE to innocuous compounds, Laurie injected a non-native microbial population, Dehalococcoides, resulting in the complete biodegradation of the toxic compounds. Within one year, these microbes biodegraded the harmful compounds more than a thousand-fold, resulting in significant cleanup of the site groundwater.
Laurie understands the importance of communicating with environmental regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulatory agencies, about the technology. Through her effective interactions, Laurie successfully applied in situ bioremediation throughout the United States, Europe, South America, and Australia.
Provide a brief biography of the nominated woman (up to 125 words):
Vice President/National Director of Remediation for Matrix New World Engineering, a women-owned engineering services business, Dr. Laurie LaPat-Polasko is an environmental trailblazer, developing innovative solutions to address water and soil contamination issues worldwide. In addition to her environmental work, Laurie also served as the Chief Science Officer for an energy start-up company, where she led the first full-scale bioconversion of coal to produce natural gas. She promotes a creative team approach to problem solving, and connects with peers to solve complex environmental disasters, including her former employer Jacques Cousteau who helped address pollution issues in the Mediterranean Sea. Laurie earned her B.S. Biology, Chatham U., an Engineers and Masters in Environmental Engineering, Stanford U., and a Ph.D. in Microbiology, University of Maryland.