Rita Henderson

Senior Lecturer
Chemical Engineering
Contact details:
(+61 2) 9385 5383

Room 805
School of Chemical Engineering
Kensington Campus

Dr Rita Henderson, Senior Lecturer, School of Chemical Engineering


Research Interest

I am interested in process engineering that tackles sustainable water and energy supply solutions. My research focuses on the solid-liquid separation of microalgae systems, including coagulation-flocculation, dissolved air flotation and membrane filtration processes, for application in water treatment and harvesting for bioenergy production. Through advanced characterisation of algae systems, process optimisation studies and the development of process monitoring techniques, we improve our understanding of the underlying biological, physical and chemical mechanisms that govern separation processes, enabling more effective, efficient and sustainable options to be established.


Interest in Engineering

I originally trained as an Environmental Chemist but realised early on that my interest was in the application of chemical principles to solve environmental problems. My aim is to develop energy efficient, effective and robust processes for the separation of microbial cels and their metabolytes, such as microalgae, for application in the water or energy industries. While microalgae are traditionally viewed as a nuisance in wastewater treatment plants, the future could see active promotion of their presence to provide advanced treatment of the water, before they are then harvested as a bioenergy source. 


Lectures/Courses Taught


Session 1

ENGG1000 Design and Innovation: Project mentor

INDC3002 Environmental Science and Technology / CEIC8336 Environmental Chemical in the Process Industries: Course co-ordinator and lecturer

CEIC4001 Process Design Project: Team mentor

Session 2

ENGG1000 Design and Innovation: Project co-ordinator (EWB Challenge - http://www.ewbchallenge.org/)

CEIC3004 Process Equipment Design: Course co-ordinator and lecturer


Postgraduate Students


Number currently in lab: 7

Number graduated: 3


Student Projects:

Xiang Li (APA): Advanced characterisation of dissolved organic nitrogen in drinking water sources. ARC LP 110100548

Andrea Gonzalez Torres (APA / WaterRA Scholarship): Optimising algal floc structure for more efficient separation

Narasinga Rao Hanumanth Rao: Application of hydrophobically modified polymers in PosiDAF

Tong Gui: Magnetic Induction Assisted Harvesting and Processing of Microalgae. UNSW Goldstar Award

Sara Imran Khan (APA/WaterRA Scholarship): Characterisation of fluorescence spectra from algae and cyanobacteria. ARC LP130100033

Florence Choo (APA / WaterRA Scholarship / Nancy Millis Scholarship): Powdered activated carbon and coagulant dosing control during algal blooms using fluorometers. ARC LP130100033

Yunlong Luo (APA): Optimising operation of microalgae membrane photobioreactors


Looking for students for projects related to:

Please see:  http://www.biomass.unsw.edu.au/opportunities for opportunities in my research team.


For details on how to apply for an Australian Postgraduate Award and International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) please see:



Professional Organisations


2010 to date: Member of the Water Research Australia (WRA) Education Committee; Chair of the WRA Education Committee since 2016

2007 to date: Corresponding Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Water Science Forum (WSF) Committee

Member of the International Water Association (IWA)

Member of the Australian Water Association (AWA)

Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry


Awards, Grants, Patents



2016: Appointed Chair of the Water Research Australia Education Committee

2016: AWA NSW Kamal Fernando Mentoring Award 2016

2015: Finalist for the Australia Museum 2015 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science

2012:  AIPS NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Award

2010: IWA Young Water Professional (YWP) Award 2010-2012

2010: Chair of the Organising Committee for the 5th IWA International Young Water Professional conference

2009: ARC Post-Doctoral Industry Fellowship (APDI)


Current Research Grants

Leslie, G., Henderson, R., Sharma, A., Grattan, K., Sun, T., Jarvis, P., Bustamante, H., Cox, P., Vigneswaran, B. Adapting catchment management monitoring and potable water treatment to climate change. ARC Linkage LP160100620.

Henderson, R., Stuetz, R., Newcombe, G., Chow, C., Hobson, P., Lin, T., Bowling, L., Roux, A., Vigneswaran, B., Blackbeard., Halliwell, D. On-line monitoring of cyanobacteria to predict coagulant doses and powdered activated carbon application in water treatment. ARC Linkage LP130100033.





PhD in Water Sciences, Centre for Water Science (now Cranfield Water Science Institute), Cranfield University, UK (Awarded 2008)

MSc in Water Pollution Control Technology, Cranfield University, UK (2004)


MChem (1H) in Environmental Chemistry with a Year in Industry, University of Edinburgh, UK (2002)