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Profile Highlights Impressive Contributions of UC Merced Professor

July 6, 2023
Colleen Naughton, third from left, and team with freshly harvested argan nuts in Morocco. Photo courtesy of Colleen Naughton
Naughton's work is focused on designing healthier and more sustainable food, energy and water systems.

A new feature by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) highlights the impressive contributions made by UC Merced civil and environmental engineering Professor Colleen Naughton.

Naughton, a CITRIS principal investigator and development engineer, blends traditional research techniques with improvements in technology and analytical methods to design healthier and more sustainable food, energy and water systems, author Karen Vo says in the article, posted in mid-June.

According to its website, CITRIS was launched to leverage the research strengths of the University of California campuses at Berkeley, Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz, and operate within the greater ecosystem of the University and the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley.

"I heard how CITRIS has strong ties with UC Merced and other UC campuses, and how it uses technology for the interest of society," Naughton said. "I was drawn to the institute's commitment to working on tech policy and supporting diversity in STEM.

"It's been great to connect with CITRIS and all of its resources."

Naughton, who joined the UC Merced faculty in 2019, is perhaps best known for her work with COVID-19 pathogen detection in wastewater.

In 2020, Naughton teamed up with Maureen Kinyua, then a UC Davis environmental engineering professor, on a CITRIS COVID-19 Seed Award project to determine the risk of COVID-19 exposure to wastewater treatment workers and communities close to sewage treatment plants.

Having generated and mapped out a wealth of information in the course of their research, Naughton, Kinyua and their team decided to create a centralized dashboard of similar COVID-19 data from wastewater based epidemiologists across the globe - aptly named COVIDPoops19 - as well as a Twitter account with the same name to report on the latest findings. As of May 2023, COVIDPoops19 plots public wastewater data from 288 universities, 72 countries and more than 4,200 sites.

"It is clear that Naughton's mission-driven approach to research spills over into our CITRIS Tech for Social Good approach to problem-solving," said Josh Viers, director of CITRIS at UC Merced and associate dean for research at the UC Merced School of Engineering, "…her COVID-19 wastewater detection dashboard has not just achieved awards, but has become indispensable to public health specialists managing the pandemic."

Naughton also leads the San Joaquin Valley Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics Tools and Sciences (FACTS) Bridge Program , which matches 10 first-year, second-year and community college transfer students at UC Merced with faculty members. And she is a member of Labor and Automation in California Agriculture (LACA) , a project funded by UC Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI), working alongside fellow CITRIS PIs Stefano Carpin, Tom Harmon, Erin Hestir, Josué Medellín-Azuara and Viers to increase food supply chain resiliency using technology and automation. Her team explores methods for monitoring and protecting soil, water and air in agricultural ecosystems, with four UC Merced students selected each year to collaborate on research.

And she contributes to Secure Water Future (SWF), a collaborative of universities and nonprofits across California, Utah and New Mexico led by Viers. Funded by the USDA, SWF works across disciplines to conduct research on water supply and demand, create data-driven information systems for land and water managers, and develop activities for educators and stakeholders to understand climate systems.

Read the full profile at the CITRIS website .