Lynal Albert Earns Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering

She looks back on her time at Lehigh and ahead to a career in academia


Lynal Albert
Albert (left) in the lab with Ph.D. candidate Hankai Zhu and their adviser, Derick Brown, associate professor.
 

Lynal Albert's interest in micro-organisms and biotechnology began at a very early age.

"It's a whole other world, a very mysterious world." she says, "Studying micro-organisms and their life processes unfold is fascinating to me and has been for as long as I can remember."

For the last decade, Albert has been immersed in that world. After receiving her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of Madras in Chennai, India, she arrived at Lehigh in 2009, ready to study bacterial adhesion under the guidance of Derick Brown, associate professor of environmental engineering.

And recently, she successfully defended her thesis, "Effects of Surface Properties on the Charge Regulated Bioenergetic Response of Attached Bacteria: Exploration within the Framework of the Chemiosmotic Theory", officially becoming Dr. Lynal Albert.

"I'm feeling a lot of relief, but even more gratitude," Albert says. "I could not have done this without my family and friends. My husband spent so many late nights with me at the lab. And the support from the faculty and especially my adviser has been incredible."

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Albert's research is part of an NSF-funded CAREER award that Brown received in 2001. Together, they've spent nearly six years together studying the changes in energy that occur when micro-organisms attach to surfaces.

"That attachment is a natural tendency," Albert says, "but what happens to the energy levels upon adhesion depends on the properties of the surface the bacteria are attaching to."

The defining principle at play is called the charge regulation effect. It suggests that the energy levels in micro-organisms that attach to acidic surfaces increases, this can encourage growth and the colonization of bacteria.

On the other hand, when bacteria attach to basic surfaces the energy levels reduce and chances of survivability decline. Notably, bacteria that don't attach to a surface don't experience a significant change in energy.

Albert believes the research is widely applicable. The water treatment industry is already taking notice, but she also notes the potential value of her work to medical professionals, who need to know what types of surfaces attract bacteria and foster colonization when treating patients or conducting procedures.

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During her time at Lehigh, Albert got a taste of what it's like to be an instructor, serving as an adjunct for an entry-level environmental engineering class this past spring.

"I enjoy teaching. Undergraduate students are of the age when people really start to seek answers to big questions," she says. "I've wanted to be a professor for a long time. Both the teaching and the research aspects of the job are very appealing to me."

She'll get that opportunity in a full-time setting very soon. This fall, Albert joins the faculty at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, which is a part of the Texas A&M system of schools. There, she'll teach Engineering Fundamentals, an entry-level course, and Environmental Systems Modeling, which is for upper-level undergraduate students, in addition to keeping up with the research she started here at Lehigh.

"This will be the ideal environment for me. I'm so happy to be able to continue studying and learning, and to be able to share what I know with hungry, young minds is very exciting."

-John Gilpatrick

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