Mark Stone/UW Sheila Goodman works in the lab with faculty member Anthony Dichiara.

When Sheila Goodman found out a significant amount of the world’s clean drinking water is lost due to inadequate infrastructure like leaking pipes, she sought a solution.Five years later, she created an inexpensive remote water sensor, made from sustainable materials, that detect leaks and prevents water damage and protects the water. Read more about Goodman, her work and how she plans to change the world in a recent Q&A with her:

What degree are you pursuing and why did you choose SEFS as the place to study?

I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in the Bioresource Science & Engineering (BSE) department here at SEFS. I first became interested in SEFS when I saw how committed the School, as a whole, was to promoting natural resources and focusing on how human actions are affecting the environment. I earned my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and had spent years researching nanomaterials, but had never realized how they could contribute to more sustainable material development until I heard about Anthony Dichiara’s research here at SEFS. I was excited by the idea of switching my research focus to sustainable nanomaterials and studying how they can contribute to alternative sustainable product development. On top of the research that drew me to SEFS, Seattle’s commitment as a city to leading a more sustainable lifestyle was also a huge selling point! It’s easy to want to do better for the environment when your University is set in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Anytime I need to take a break from the lab, I am immediately headed out to do some hiking in the mountains!

Talk about your research work.

My research at SEFS focuses on the development of cellulose-based composite nanomaterials for use in multifunctional sensing and energy storage applications.  The materials used to make these electronic devices are traditionally derived from petrochemical sources, so there is a great opportunity to utilize cellulose as a more environmentally friendly alternative.  As the most abundant natural polymer in the world, cellulose is widely available as a green material, but the limiting factor in its successful application is the lack of research in this space, which my work seeks to help alleviate.

I am currently working on two projects utilizing cellulose as the main matrix material. The first is the development of a cellulose-carbon nanomaterial composite paper, deemed “smart” paper, for remote water sensing applications. While a fifth of the world’s population lacks access to clean drinking water, a significant amount of treated water is lost in the U.S. every year due to inadequate piping infrastructure and undetected leaks. I’ve spent the last five years working to develop an inexpensive remote water sensor, made from sustainable cellulose fibers and carbon nanotubes, which can be more easily employed in traditionally challenging locations. I developed, optimized, and scaled up the production of this cellulose composite and am currently working on prototype design where my “smart” paper can alert users via text message and trigger safety protocols, like shutting off sensitive equipment. This “smart” paper is currently undergoing real-world testing by a research team at CERN in Switzerland, where it is already detecting leaks and preventing water damage in their research facility!

I also work on incorporating the nano form of cellulose fibers (nanocellulose) into plastic-like films for energy storage applications. By tailoring the properties of nanocellulose fibers, I can adapt this sustainable polymer to such a wide variety of applications. Through the incorporation of fillers and nanoparticles, I study the ability of nanocellulose composites to act as sustainable energy storage devices to meet ever growing energy demands. Through the 2019 STEM Chateaubriand Fellowship, I was able to move to France for a short time to collaborate on this project with a team of engineers with expertise in energy storage design, and gain access to advanced electronics characterization equipment.

Where have you traveled as part of your research?

I received the 2019 STEM Chateaubriand Fellowship which is a program focused on maintaining French and US collaborations to support alternative material and energy system design. I moved to Bordeaux, France at the end of 2019 to work at a national laboratory, the Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal (CRPP). My research focused on the development of nanocellulose composite films as a sustainable energy storage devices. I worked on optimizing the composition of my cellulose based films and assessing the resulting energy storage capabilities to meet the world’s ever growing energy demands. By studying the effects of different nanoparticle fillers within the nanocellulose matrix, I worked in collaboration with experienced energy storage engineers at CRPP to design novel devices using a naturally-derived polymer to alleviate energy storage limitations. When I wasn’t in the lab, I had the opportunity to explore France, and visit some of the oldest Chateau’s in the world! I never tasted a wine I didn’t like there!

How has COVID-19 and the restrictions on travel and gathering changed your project? In what ways have you been adapting?

Unfortunately, while I was working in France, COVID-19 ended my research abruptly, and I was forced to return to Seattle. While I have experienced significant delays in my research, I have been able to safely work in my lab here at UW to continue to improve the nanocellulose-based energy storage material design. While I was unable to travel back to France to continue my research in person, a beneficial collaboration developed where I and my colleges in France were able to share samples and divide tasks between our respective labs based on our available equipment. I continue to work with a team at CRPP to continuously adapt our material design and enhance the energy storage capabilities of nanocellulose composites.

Tell us more about yourself.

I grew up in Albany, NY and attended the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where I earned my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering with a minor in mechanical engineering. After undergrad, I immediately moved out to Seattle to pursue my master’s and Ph.D. in BSE here at SEFS. I currently live in Seattle where I have been able to safely continue my research efforts in the lab, while also working to write my dissertation for my graduation this spring quarter!

I am an avid hiker and amateur photographer in my free time! I love to get out into the mountains and explore all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. If I’m not in the lab, you are bound to find me dragging my friends to the North Cascades for some sunrise hikes!