Research News

Aga named director of UB RENEW Institute

Diana Aga in the lab.

Diana Aga, the Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry at UB, has been named director of the UB RENEW Institute. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published July 29, 2021

“My research is inspired by my desire to prevent the continuous deterioration of our environment as a result of industrialization and population growth. ”
Diana Aga, Henry M. Woodburn Professor
Department of Chemistry

Diana Aga, Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been named director of the UB RENEW (Research and Education in Energy, Environment and Water) Institute.

The UB RENEW Institute is a university-wide, multidisciplinary research institute that focuses on complex energy and environmental issues, as well as the social and economic issues with which they are connected. Aga’s appointment as director begins Aug. 1.

Aga is an internationally recognized environmental and analytical chemist, and a devoted mentor who has encouraged and helped to launch the careers of a new generation of diverse scientists in her field.

Aga’s research has had a far-reaching impact on the analysis of emerging contaminants such as antimicrobials and other pharmaceuticals, endocrine-disrupting chemicals and engineered nanomaterials, as well as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides in a wide range of biological and environmental samples.

In the Department of Chemistry, Aga leads a team that has collaborated with colleagues at UB, other universities and industry on projects that focus on detecting known and unknown contaminants, removing them from municipal and agricultural wastewater, developing new technologies to degrade POPs, and understanding the impact of environmental pollutants on humans and wildlife.

Her work is local and global, ranging from studies on the bioaccumulation of pollutants in fish and common terns in the Great Lakes region, to research investigating the presence of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, antibiotics and antibiotics resistance genes in waters in the U.S., Asia and Europe. She has been involved with action plans and various activities by the World Health Organization and other international institutions to combat antimicrobial resistance, one of the greatest threats in modern medicine and public health.

“When I was growing up in the Philippines, I lived in a small village near a river where we swam and played every day,” Aga says. “We fished there, and ate the fish — everything was so pristine. Years later, population increased, and gradually the river became black and very polluted. My research is inspired by my desire to prevent the continuous deterioration of our environment as a result of industrialization and population growth.”

“RENEW acts as a catalyst to bring together UB researchers from across disciplines to collaborate on addressing big issues related to environmental pollution and its health effects, climate change impacts and mitigation, sustainable energy production and other vital concerns,” Aga says. “UB has the extensive expertise needed to create synergistic solutions to these global problems. RENEW-affiliated faculty can realize bold ideas and apply for research grants to address the grand challenges we are facing today and will be facing in the future.”  

“There is no question that Professor Aga’s scholarly achievements, her passion for RENEW, her communication skills and her ability to cultivate collaborations will serve both the university and RENEW well,” said A. Scott Weber, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development, in an announcement of Aga’s appointment.

A prolific scholar whose research has been supported by more than $18 million in state and federal funding, Aga has published over 180 refereed papers, edited two books and serves as editor of the Journal of Hazardous Materials, an international journal that publishes scientific articles in environmental science and engineering. At UB, she has mentored 31 PhD students and five master’s students, who have gone on to careers in industry, government and academia. She served as director of graduate studies in chemistry at UB for six years.

Aga has also mentored more than 50 undergraduate researchers in her lab, including participants in the chemistry department’s National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer research program. Many of these students have gone on to pursue graduate studies in chemistry or environmentally related programs.

Aga has received numerous honors, including two Fulbright awards, the American Chemical Society (ACS) Schoellkopf Medal, the NSF CAREER Award, the Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, the Koh Lectureship Award in Science from the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering, the Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award from UB, the Menzie Environmental Education Award from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and the AGRO Fellow Award from the ACS AGRO Division.

Aga joined UB as a faculty member in 2002 after earning a PhD in analytical and environmental chemistry from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in agricultural chemistry from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

She was a postdoctoral research fellow with the U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Division, and with the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) in Dübendorf, Switzerland. Prior to joining UB, she worked as a research scientist at Bayer Corporation’s agricultural division.