Meet environmental engineer Julia Stowe. She has always loved outdoor activities and is devoted to protecting the environment. When she was 10, she saw the movie WALL-E, a movie about a robot left on earth to clean up trash from humans, and stumbled upon a new passion. While most 10-year old’s dream of being a rockstar, ballerina, or doctor, Julia wanted to save the planet.
“As a child, I encouraged my family to recycle and meal plan to reduce food waste,” says Stowe. “At school, I would even move recyclables I saw in the garbage to the proper recycling bins. When it was time to start researching colleges, I realized I wanted a job that would allow me to solve real-life problems, not just collect data. This led me to Ohio State University and engineering.”
During a college study trip to Ghana, Julia’s life goals were further fortified. “I saw that the effects of climate change most often affect the communities who aren’t causing it. There are islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with indigenous communities struggling with harsh weather and rising sea levels. Soon their country may not exist anymore.”
Julia began working as an intern at Battelle, the nation’s largest non-profit R&D organization, then joined as a full-time staff member after graduating in the Spring of 2020. Over the past decade, Battelle has invested millions of dollars to better understand the fate and transport of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) which have been dubbed as “forever chemicals.” PFAS chemicals exist everywhere. In our soil, water, air and our bodies. But these manmade chemicals are very difficult to remove from the environment. Thru hard work and tenacity, Julia was asked to join the team to research and launch a first-to-market total solution for PFAS removal and destruction, The Battelle PFAS Annihilator.
Julia Stowe shared more.
How did your interest in protecting the environment shape your educational choices?
From a young age, I knew I wanted to protect the environment. In my first year in the engineering program, I was with engineers from different fields. I was introduced to a variety of industries, but I held my ground in being an environmental engineer. While in college, I went on an engineering service-learning trip to Ghana to research water quality issues and people’s access to clean drinking water. This trip put into perspective the plethora of issues in the world.
Unlike many college students, my goal of protecting the environment remained at the forefront of my mind. All my class choices, internships, and jobs were in pursuit of that goal.
Why was your passion so important in choosing a career?
Passion is the driving force behind my day-to-day. It’s really easy to get caught up in the monotony of everyday life. If you do something you care about, even insignificant tasks can make you feel like you are making a difference. Or at the very least, make it feel less like work.
How did you get your internship with Battelle?
I had never heard of Battelle. I was reviewing internship opportunities on Indeed and found the opportunity. After doing research about the company, I saw many connections to the work I wanted to do, so I applied. I started interning in the Environmental Remediation Department at Battelle in the Summer of 2018 and continued working part-time while I was in school, so I could stay connected to the work.
How did you move from internship to the position you have now working with PFAS and the PFAS Annihilator?
As an intern, there are always menial tasks that need to get done that aren’t the most fun. But I still worked hard and did the best work possible – double checking my work, raising my hand to help, and always being eager to learn more.
The summer I graduated from OSU in 2020, I was hired as a full-time Environmental Scientist at Battelle, continuing my work in the Environmental Remediation Department. During that transition, a project manager that I worked with on several projects became the project manager of the PFAS Annihilator project. He saw my work ethic firsthand and decided to bring me along on that project.
Today I’m managing the day-to-day in the lab, training people to work in our lab, delegating work to other team members, and providing input on test results. It’s been a very exciting career path so far.
What are PFAS or Forever Chemicals? Why are they difficult to destroy?
Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manmade chemicals with unique properties—oil and water repellant, temperature resistant, and friction reductant—that have been widely used in consumer and industrial products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant textiles, paint, metal plating, food packaging, and firefighting foams.
Those same properties that make them useful for consumer goods makes them very difficult to treat or remove from the environment. Thus, giving them the widely known name of “forever chemicals” because they will not degrade without intervention. Research is still being conducted to determine how different levels of PFAS may lead to various adverse health outcomes.
What is the Battelle Annihilator and what was it like helping to create it?
The Battelle PFAS Annihilator is an on-site destruction solution that destroys PFAS during water treatment.
It is super exciting to work on PFAS Annihilator because its technology that is now going beyond the research and development stage and into commercialization. Instead of just running samples and getting results, we are constantly discussing new design ideas and tweaking operational conditions to further scale and enhance the performance of the technology. It’s really rewarding work.
What tips can you provide others to live a more sustainable life?
The most impactful thing people can do is limit single-use products. The things we use for mere convenience for a few hours, but last in the environment for thousands of years, such as straws or plastic bags.
It’s also important to educate yourself on what can or cannot be recycled based on the standards in your community. Bad recycling is worse than not recycling at all.