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Damian E. Helbling

  • Damian E. Helbling
  • Dept: Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Title: Assistant Professor
  • Address: 273 Hollister Hall
  • Phone: 607 255-5146
  • Website: Helbling Research Group
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Damian E. Helbling did his undergraduate work at The Pennsylvania State University where he received a BS in civil engineering with a minor in environmental engineering. During his years as an undergrad, Helbling also held a position as a National Science Foundation REU fellow at the Center for Biofilm Engineering in Bozeman, Montana. Following graduation, Helbling worked for several years as an environmental engineering consultant before turning to graduate school. He received his MS and PhD in civil and environmental engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. His graduate research focused on the use of sensor networks within drinking water distribution systems to monitor and control post-treatment water quality. Helbling did his postdoctoral work at the Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) in Dübendorf, Switzerland where he explored the fate and transport of trace organic contaminants with a particular focus on biological transformation processes.

Research Interests

Helbling is interested in water quality as it relates to human and ecosystem health. He is particularly interested in investigating the chemical and biological processes that influence contaminant fate and nutrient cycling in natural and engineered aquatic systems. One major research thrust has focused on biotransformation processes acting on trace organic contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides in natural and engineered biological systems. Research in this area has involved the experimental elucidation of the chemical and biological determinants of these processes by uniquely combining state-of-the-art analytical techniques from the fields of environmental analytical chemistry and environmental microbiology. Novel data mining and data processing tools are being developed to parse large dataset acquisitions and discover predictive chemical and biological descriptors of these processes. The overall goals of Helbling's broader research program are to develop: (i) mechanistic models for contaminant fate and exposure risk assessment; (ii) next-generation water treatment and resource recovery technologies; and (iii) comprehensive and sustainable management strategies for urban water systems.

Selected Publications

  • Johnson, D. R., Damian Helbling, T. K. Lee, J. Park, K. Fenner, H. -P.E. Kohler, M. Ackermann. 2015. "Association of biodiversity with the rates of micropollutant biotransformations among full-scale wastewater treatment plant communities." Applied and Environmental Microbiology 2 (81): 666-675.
  • Men, Y., P. Han, D.E. Helbling, N. Jehmlich, C. Herbold, R. Gulde, A. Onnis-Hayden, A.Z. Gu, D.R. Johnson, M. Wagner, K. Fenner. 2016. "Biotransformation of two pharmaceuticals by the ammonia-oxidizing archaeon Nitrososphaera gargensis." Environmental Science & Technology 50 (9): 4682-4692.
  • Gulde, R., U. Meier, E. Schymanski, H.-P.E. Kohler, D.E. Helbling, S. Derrer, D. Rentsch, K. Fenner. 2016. "Systematic exploration of biotransformation reactions of amine-containing micropollutants in activated sludge." Environmental Science & Technology 50 (6): 2908-2920.
  • Alsbaiee, A., B J. Smith, L. Xiao, Y. Ling, D E. Helbling, W R Dichtel. 2016. "Rapid removal of organic micropollutants from water by a porous ß-cyclodextrin polymer." Nature 529: 190-194.
  • Johnson, D R., D E. Helbling, Y. Men, K Fenner. 2015. "Can meta-omics help to establish causality between contaminant biotransformations and genes or gene products?." Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology 1 (3): 272-278.

Selected Awards and Honors

  • Editor's Choice Award - Best Environmental Science Paper, 2nd Runner-up (Environmental Science and Technology) 2014
  • Invited Speaker - Gordon Research Conference on Environmental Sciences: Water 2012
  • Certificate of Merit for co-authorship of the paper "Can biotransformation rates of microbial communities be linked to gene expression levels?" at the 242nd ACS National Meeting 2011
  • Editor's Choice Award - Best Environmental Science Paper (Environmental Science and Technology) 2010
  • Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award (Carnegie Mellon University) 2008


  • Ph D (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Carnegie Mellon University, 2008