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Villanova Engineering Launches Center for Human-Environmental Systems

Associate Professor Wenqing “Vicky” Xu, PhD
Associate Professor Wenqing “Vicky” Xu, PhD

Villanova University College of Engineering announces the launch of a new center designed to integrate and advance interdisciplinary research and scholarship at the nexus of people and the planet.

Directed by Associate Professor Wenqing “Vicky” Xu, PhD, of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, the new Center for Human-Environmental Systems (CHES) will address environmental concerns through biomimicry, finding solutions by exploring how nature itself would solve these problems. CHES will reach across disciplines, bringing in faculty members from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Charles Widger School of Law, in addition to the COE, to advance technologies and solutions that mimic natural processes and promote restorative impacts upon the Earth’s interconnected systems.

“The goal is to understand and address issues at the interface of human-environmental systems,” says Dr. Xu, whose research focuses on understanding the various ways that nature detoxifies contaminants; her work earned her the prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation in 2018.

“We don’t know much about the feedback loop between human systems and the environment—and rightfully so, because we don’t have that expertise within one discipline to address this,” she adds. “The center will work to pull together cross-campus research teams to respond to pressing issues, and advance and accelerate the University’s contributions to the field and our shared future.”

Joining Dr. Xu as core faculty members in CHES are Dr. Metin Duran, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Dr. Bo Li, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Ryan Jorn, associate professor of Chemistry; and Dr. Todd Aagaard, professor of Law. CHES is funded by 10 active grants, provided by such entities as the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency and Philadelphia Water Department.

“With a research focus on environmental justice in addition to biomimetic materials and sensing technologies, CHES has the potential to elevate the profile of the COE while furthering our commitment to engineering for the greater good,” says Michele Marcolongo, PhD, PE, the Drosdick Endowed Dean of Engineering.

To learn more about CHES and its work, please contact Dr. Xu at