Adeleye Named Hellman Fellow for Food and Environmental Safety Study

July 1, 2021 – Arsenic in babies’ rice cereal? Not if Adeyemi Adeleye can help it. Adeleye, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is one of seven assistant professors at UC Irvine who have won a $50,000 Hellman Fellowship, which is bestowed annually to support research of junior faculty.

The Hellman Fellowship funding will support Adeleye’s research proposal “Remediation of Metal-Contaminated Agricultural Soils Using Nanotechnology and Machine Learning.” His work will focus on designing engineered nanoparticles to immobilize toxic metals in agricultural soils. Adeleye’s group will study the complex interactions that occur among toxic metals, engineered nanoparticles, soil and plants. They will use artificial learning and sophisticated imaging techniques such as X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, electron microscopy and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

Adeleye explained that recent surveys have reported high levels of arsenic in babies’ rice cereals sold by several large companies. This finding underlines a major problem with agricultural soils, which may naturally contain high levels of certain toxic metals or be contaminated through application of biosolids or agrochemicals. The research group’s long-term goal is to develop nanomaterials that can immobilize these toxic metals in soils, by strongly attaching to or sequestering the toxic metals, so when crops are grown, the metals will not be easily picked up by the plant roots.

“Our work has the potential to increase food safety and prevent the spread of toxic metals in the natural environment,” he said.

“It is both humbling and equally exciting for my group’s work and potential contribution to be recognized in this way,” Adeleye added. “I would like to thank my dedicated lab members for all their hard work, as well as the leadership of the CEE department of the Samueli School of Engineering for their unflinching support.”

Chris and Warren Hellman began providing early career funding to junior faculty at UC campuses and four private institutions in 1994. Since then, more than 1,900 individuals have been recipients.

– Tonya Becerra