Zijiang “River” Yang Gets Post-Doc Position at Tokyo University
Zijiang “River” Yang started at the University of Maryland (UMD) with a singular goal in mind. He wanted to get a master’s degree in structural engineering and then return to China, his native country. However, while selecting courses for his first semester at UMD, Yang uncovered a passion for research involving both structural engineering and chemistry, so he decided to pursue an education in civil and environmental engineering (CEE). Yang switched majors, received a master’s and Ph.D. in CEE, and then continued his research as a post-doctoral associate. Now, Yang is moving across the globe to Japan, where he will work as a post-doctoral associate in the Laboratory of Applied Ocean Optics at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology.
Yang remembers making the switch from structural to civil and environmental engineering. He asked Professor Alba Torrents to serve as his advisor, and she agreed after Yang demonstrated his aptitude in her course, ENCE 651: Chemistry of Natural Waters.
“I was very active in that class,” said Yang. “Dr. Torrents even recommended me as a teacher’s assistant for a CEE undergraduate course.”
Soon afterwards, Yang joined Torrents’ Persistent Organic Pollutants Research Laboratory and began conducting research with the other graduate students in the lab. His master’s research focused on modeling the dispersion of air pollutants, which earned him the department’s Best Master’s Research Award. Then, Yang changed his focus from air to soil pollutants for his Ph.D. work.
Specifically, Yang researched DDT, an organic pesticide and pollutant that stays in the soil for a long time and can be harmful to wildlife and human beings. He studied the use of compost materials to remediate soil with DDT, so that less of the pesticide leaches into the ecosystem. Yang used modeling and statistical tools to analyze the data and test his hypothesis. Early results show that DDT binds to the organic materials in compost, which prevents DDT getting into the ecosystem. All of this research culminated in a multidisciplinary thesis. Throughout his Ph.D. research, Yang was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award, the Ann G. Wylie Dissertation Fellowship, and the 2021 ACS AGRO Division 2021 New Investigator Award.
“The microplastic solution is a trending scientific problem nowadays, so it will be great to have some research experience on this topic. And now, I’ll have experience with three environmental components, air, soil, and water."
Outside of his research, Yang has always been interested in Japan and the Japanese language, which happened to be incredibly useful when he began searching for jobs. Yang first learned Japanese because he was interested in anti-seismic design material. He began watching Japanese dramas and animations during his free time and became increasingly interested in Japanese food and culture. At the time, he didn’t know that he would end up living in Japan.
“At the beginning of the year, I was looking for jobs and I really wanted to work in Japan. I didn’t expect to be a finalist for this position, but I wanted to try,” said Yang.
In his new research position at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Yang will be studying pollutants once more, but this time, he’ll be examining microplastics in the Tokyo Bay.
“The microplastic solution is a trending scientific problem nowadays, so it will be great to have some research experience on this topic. And now, I’ll have experience with three environmental components, air, soil, and water,” said Yang.
Yang is excited for the next step in his career and to continue conducting research on the environment. However, it will be bittersweet to no longer have Yang on UMD’s campus.
“I’m very excited to go to the new job, to be in a new environment, and to do new research. But I’m also sad to leave,” said Yang. “UMD gave me a lot of opportunities and Maryland is a beautiful place. I’m taking the first step now, and we’ll see what will happen next.”
Published August 25, 2022