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Petroleum Clean Up Expert Featured at NMSU Lecture Series April 3-4

LAS CRUCES - The innovative use of plants as common as grass to clean up contaminated petroleum sites is the touchstone of an upcoming special New Mexico State University lecture series.



New Mexico State University's Lowenstein Lecture Series will feature Kathy Banks, a professor of civil engineering at Purdue University. Her public seminar on April 3 at 5:30 p.m. in Room CB153 of Chemistry Lecture Hall will be on phytoremediation, the use of plants and trees to remove or neutralize contaminants in soil or water. She will give a second talk for students and faculty April 4 at 3:30 p.m. in Room 200 of Gerald Thomas Hall. (02/17/2003) (Courtesy Photo from Purdue University)

"Some plants can clearly enhance the degradation of petroleum products in soil and water," said Kathy Banks, an engineer at Purdue University, who has received research funding from such industrial heavyweights as BP, Chevron and Exxon. "There's a great deal of interest among petroleum companies to push this forward."

Banks will present a public seminar on phytoremediation, the use of plants and trees to remove or neutralize contaminants in soil or water, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. in Room CB153 of Chemistry Lecture Hall. "Phytoremediation: Moving from the Lab to the Field," is part of the Lowenstein Lecture Series for NMSU's agronomy and horticulture department. She will also give a second presentation for students and faculty April 4 at 3:30 p.m. in Room 200 of Gerald Thomas Hall.

During the past two decades, scientists and engineers have focused on how plants interact with petroleum contaminants, Banks said. Actually, it is the microorganisms on the plants' roots, not so much the plants themselves, that act as living filters, she said.

"A number of plants, including common fescue grass, have been shown to be very effective in enhancing the microbial degradation of certain compounds," she said. Other plants being examined by Banks and her scientific team include clover, alfalfa, switch grass, Bermuda grass and even a zucchini variety.

Plant-based cleaning can be applied to everything from crude oil spills to oil well sites themselves, Banks said. "They can be used anywhere you have petroleum products," she said.

In addition to her expertise in recovering petroleum damaged soils, Banks brings a great deal of expertise in the clean up of metals in New Mexico, particularly lead and uranium contaminated sites, said April Ulery, a soil scientist with NMSU's department of Agronomy and Horticulture. Banks serves as director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Midwest Hazardous Substance Research Center, as well as working as a professor of civil engineering at Purdue.

Banks is the recipient of a Purdue University faculty scholar award and a Sloan Foundation mentoring fellowship. She received a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida. She earned a master's degree from the University of North Carolina and a doctorate from Duke University.

NMSU's Lowenstein Lecture Series is made possible through a gift from the late Bonnie
and Bernard Lowenstein of Albuquerque. The presentations promote interest and better understanding of floriculture and recreational horticulture, along with other fields of plant science. In addition, NMSU has offered the Bonnie Lowenstein Memorial endowed scholarship for undergraduates since 1993.

For more information or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate in the meeting, please contact April Ulery at (505) 646-2219 or aulery@nmsu.edu before the event.