Popular Science magazine has named Fangqiong Ling, assistant professor at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, one of its “Brilliant 10.”

After a five-year hiatus, the magazine’s signature awards program has returned to highlight early-career scientists and engineers who are working to make positive change in the world.

“Sometimes innovation is about unlocking the potential of work already in progress, which is why Fangqiong’s work to advance what we can learn by studying sewers earned her a spot in our Brilliant 10,” editor-in-chief Corinne Iozzio said.

“Public health experts have been sampling sewage to monitor outbreaks and contaminants for years, but her modeling techniques provide the kind of targeted detail necessary to truly map the epicenters and sizes of problems.”

Ling came to Washington University in 2018 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was a postdoctoral fellow supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Microbiology of the Built Environment program. Her research aims to tell the story of microbes in water — drinking water and wastewater — and to use what she learns from the microbial systems to guide development of tools to improve everything from public health to quality of life.

“I’d read the Brilliant 10 before,” Ling said. “The works of many awardees from previous years have inspired me since grad school.”

Popular Science began publishing the “Brilliant 10” in 2002 to highlight 10 assistant or associate professors working in science and engineering at universities across the country. Its editorial team assessed hundreds of candidates from institutions of all sizes before settling on the finalists.

Ling hopes the recognition will allow her to broaden her research, in terms of scope as well as impact, including on young scientists-to-be.

Ling’s research group in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering has received support from the Ralph Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement award and the National Science Foundation CAREER program, among others. Her work was recognized by the International Water Association and the International Society of Microbial Ecology Biocluster Rising Star award. Ling, her students and collaborators are undertaking field work on microbial systems in freshwater systems in the St. Louis area, including those in the area’s drinking water and the Meramec River.


The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 140 full-time faculty, 1,387 undergraduate students, 1,448 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

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