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Heather Shipley
Heather Shipley

UTSA Spotlight: Assistant Professor Heather Shipley is all about solving the world's water problems

By Cindy Brockwell
Special Projects Writer

(Oct. 17, 2008)--Heather Shipley shares with her students an observation made by President John F. Kennedy -- whoever solves the problem of the world's future water needs deserves two Nobel prizes, one for science and one for world peace.

UTSA's Heather Shipley is on it. Now in her second year as an assistant professor in the College of Engineering's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, simply stated, Shipley's research is all about finding ways to treat water for re-use.

"For San Antonio, the application might be the removal of military base contaminants that were deposited here long before the military understood the effects to the environment," she explained.

"And for underdeveloped countries, the best case scenario would be that the research leads to a clean supply of drinking water. Essentially, my research involves finding ways to remove the metals, arsenic and other inorganic contaminants from our natural water systems such as lakes, aquifers and rivers."

Shipley speaks clearly about water to a non-scientist. She is equally at ease presenting her research to audiences in Nicaragua and Scotland. In 2006, she presented her award-winning student paper, "Effect of Hydrate Inhibitors on Calcite, Sulfates, and Halite Scale Formation," to the Society of Petroleum Engineers in Aberdeen.

Although born in Missouri, she's been in Texas since entering Baylor University, where she earned her B.S. in chemistry. "I'm like the bumper sticker -- I wasn't born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could," she said. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in environmental engineering at Rice University, completing her doctorate in 2007.

And, she received a National Science Foundation grant during her first year here at UTSA.

Both of Shipley's parents and her siblings are scientists. She wasn't intent on following in their footsteps. In high school she thought she wanted to major in business until she lucked into a really great organic chemistry teacher. "We made aspirin. We saw how chemicals worked together. We did really interesting experiments, and I was hooked," she said.

"I was always looking for a challenge. I stayed with chemistry in grad school because I was interested in the environment and wanted to make a contribution. Clean water presented the challenge," she said.

Shipley could have gone into industry, but chose academia instead. "I like teaching, and I enjoy mentoring students, so my path was clear," she said.

"My students are as passionate about our work as I am. We have to have water to live," she noted. "As bad as the energy crisis is, a true water crisis could be worse. There are alternative energy sources, but there is no substitute for water. We have to have water to live."

Oh, and by the way, Shipley doesn't spend money on bottled water. "It's essentially tap water, so why go to the expense?"

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Shipley favorite fun facts

  • Movie: "The American President" with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening
  • Music: R&B, pop, alternative, classical
  • Leisure reading: Mysteries, fantasies, science fiction

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