In profile: Scientia Professor David Waite
Award winning Scientia Professor David Waite’s career encompasses exceptional research, international standing and a wide-ranging contribution to the field of environmental chemistry.
UNSW Global Water Institute (GWI) researcher, Scientia Professor David Waite is a specialist in environmental chemistry with particular expertise in the behaviour of elements such as iron, manganese, copper, silver and uranium in natural and engineered systems.
Professor Waite hails from the UNSW Water Research Centre, and the impact of his work is multifaceted, ranging from improved technologies for water treatment, to better approaches to land management, to mineral extraction from tailings deposits and the management of radioactive wastes. His work has provided underpinning understanding of the role of elements such as iron and copper in generating reactive oxygen species in both natural aquatic systems and engineered water treatment technologies.
While Professor Waite’s research aim has been to undertake biogeochemical research which improves our understanding of natural aquatic systems, he has a larger two-fold goal in sight. He wants his work, he says, “to enable us to prevent environmental degradation, and also to develop appropriate solutions to challenges such as provision of water supply and improving human health.”
Professor Waite’s research in water chemistry has been vital to development in many areas. Through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, he provided advice and solutions to Sydney Water and a number of other water agencies and local councils around Australia on appropriate methods of preventing iron and manganese-related “dirty water” problems.
His advice to the Queensland EPA in the mid 2000’s, concerning the increased incidence of the toxic cyanobacterium Lyngbya majuscule, led to a significant tightening in management of affected coastal environments with concomitant reduction in bloom occurrence and recovery in the local fishing industry.
In the late 2000s his work with fellow GWI researcher, Dr Richard Collins, on analysis of factors responsible for acid generation in acid sulphate soils led to a program of drain infilling by the Tweed Shire Council and landholders in the region. This has reduced acid generation dramatically in NSW coastal environments; achieved reversal in the rate and extent of land degradation and significantly improved water quality in coastal rivers, estuaries and wetlands in the Tweed Shire region of NSW.
I want my work to enable us to prevent environmental degradation, and also to develop appropriate solutions to challenges such as provision of water supply and improving human health.
Scientia Professor David Waite
Professor Waite’s work on the role of light in rendering iron, a critical micronutrient, available to phytoplankton in marine surface waters has taken on added significance in recent years with the recognition that these aquatic organisms are the major sink for carbon dioxide on Earth (and thus a critical balance to carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere).
Along with GWI colleague Dr Peter Kovalsky, one of Professor Waite’s current ARC Linkage projects involves a low cost robust sustainable technology for effective water treatment. The main outcome is intended to be a photovoltaic-powered capacitive deionization (CDI) unit that is capable of stand-alone operation with optimal energy recovery and inbuilt monitoring – perfect for remote or developing communities around the world.
Professor Waite is a Royal Australia Chemical Institute (RACI) Fellow and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales. He contributes actively to the RACI through his role as NSW Representative for the Division of Interfaces, Colloids and Nanomaterials. Professor Waite is Chair of the international conference series “Interfaces Against Pollution” and an Associate Editor of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.