Dr. Niko Qafoku
From molecules and nano particles to the field scale: a four-decades study of environment and climate change

Significant advances have been made over the last years towards a better understanding of the reactions and processes occurring in soils at molecular and nanometer scales which affect and/or control contaminant interactions with minerals and organic matter transformation and persistence in soils. In this presentation, the focus will be, firstly, on the role of soil minerals in controlling contaminant mobility (e.g., Fe oxides and calcium carbonate) and how they serve as hosts for different contaminants, such as chromium and uranium. Geochemically aided remediation by chemically trapping contaminants in naturally occurring mineral lattices can help expedite cleanup and is a reliable method for remediation efforts across the globe. Secondly, the presentation will be focused on soil organic matter interaction with minerals. With approximately 80% of Earth’s terrestrial carbon being stored in soil, this carbon pool contributes significantly to the global scale C cycle. Soil organic matter can associate strongly with high surface area minerals, providing a mechanism for aggregation and organic matter stabilization. Thirdly, the work presented here seeks to systematically probe physical, chemical, and molecular-level interactions at the nanoscale and nanoparticle interfaces, to directly quantify these interactions and provide parameters for models to predict reactions and processes at field scale. Lastly, the effects of climate change and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from soils will be also discussed.

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Dr. Qafoku is nationally and internationally recognized for his expertise and leadership in the soil chemistry/mineralogy and environmental geosciences communities for contributions in both research and education for over three decades. During his tenure at the Agricultural University of Tirana in his native Albania, he taught, developed new courses, and wrote lectures and a soil fertility textbook; recruited, supervised, and mentored students; and provided oversight for the development and selection of research proposals. He also conducted research in soil chemistry and fertilizer efficiency and earned the Doctor of Science Degree. He was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship in 1994 and conducted soil modeling work at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He then was accepted in the graduate school of the University of Georgia and graduated in 1998 finishing a double-degree graduate program (M.S. in Applied Mathematics and Computer Sciences and Ph.D. in Environmental Soil Chemistry). Since 2000, Dr. Qafoku has been employed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) where he has moved through the ranks from scientist II to Laboratory Fellow (2020) and led research in national DOE programs on fate and transport of U, Tc, I and Cr; nuclear waste disposal in environments (soils and subsurface); CO2 sequestration in soils and deep subsurface reservoirs and environmental effect on groundwater quality; and carbon, nitrogen and elemental cycling in soils. Dr. Qafoku has been recognized at PNNL with four outstanding individual performance and three exceptional contribution awards (2005, 2007, 2009, 2020, and 2014, 2016, 2020, respectively), and three Energy and Environment Directorate (PNNL) publication of the year award (2015, 2016, 2019). He was promoted to Laboratory Fellow (2020) which is one of the highest recognitions at PNNL. He received the prestigious and nationally recognized R&D 100 Award in 2017. He is also recipient of the national 2019 Jackson Award in soil chemistry and mineralogy from the Soil Science Society of America and he was elected Fellow (2020) of this society. He has a great record of peer-reviewed publications, with papers published in Science, Nature, SSSAJ, JEQ, Advances in Agronomy, American Journal of Science, and book chapters published in Encyclopedia of Soil Science and the Handbook of Soil Science. In addition, he has published numerous reports and papers presented at international conferences and has served on editorial boards of many international journals. He has been elected and served in many Soil Science Society of America positions and committees (e.g., chair of the Soil Chemistry Division). He was elected Councilor of the Clay Mineral Society and served as General Chair of the 57th Annual International Meeting of this society and received the Citation of Special Recognition (2020) from this society. He is an affiliate professor in the Department of Civil and Environment Engineering of the University of Washington, adjunct faculty of the Washington State University, professor of Agricultural University of Tirana, Albania, and has served in the graduate committees of WSU, University of Central Florida and Oregon State University.