Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies and Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
“What’s been enlightening to me is how once you get the right tools and the right people at the right school, new things are possible.”
Following the aroma of baking bread through city streets to locate a bakery may seem a strange topic of discussion for a chemical engineer. But that’s how Roseanne Ford explains bacterial chemotaxis, a process that forms the center of her cutting-edge research to use microbes to remedy environmental contamination. “Chemotaxis is kind of like a sense of smell,” she said. “As the bacteria are swimming along, they can sense when they’re moving toward something.”
Professor Ford first became interested in the potential use of bacteria to clean up hazardous waste after the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in 1989—the same year she joined U.Va. By doing interdisciplinary work with the Department of Environmental Sciences and using magnetic resonance equipment at the School of Medicine, Professor Ford has made discoveries about how bacteria move through soil toward a contaminant’s source.
The recipient of grants from the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation, in 2006 she became a fellow in the prestigious American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. Even more exciting was taking graduate students to Cape Cod to begin field-testing her lab research. “It was really my colleagues in Environmental Sciences that kept the pressure on,” Professor Ford said. “I’ve benefited from having their perspective on this whole issue.”