The young boy enjoys roaming the outdoors. Playing in the western Pennsylvania countryside, he begins to notice things that don't make sense. At the playground, strange mounds are piled high. The many streams are stained a bright orange. Streams don't look like that, do they?

David Dzombak's father, William, a chemist and professor, explains the mysteries to his son. The many years of mining in the area produced the waste that looked like small mountains next to the monkey bars. The drainage from those mines tinted the water a rusty hue. The contamination was manmade.

Those playground days were in the early 1960s, long before worries about carbon footprints. Dzombak's father founded a group for recycling in their town. "Nobody's parents were doing that," recalls the younger Dzombak, who is now a civil and environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon and faculty director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research. Dzombak credits his father as an early influence for his career track.

Dzombak was recently appointed to chair two national environmental committees:

  • National Research Council Committee on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Science, Engineering, and Planning. The recommendations by Dzombak's committee will help guide how the Corps of Engineers goes about resolving water resource challenges throughout the United States.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board committee that will review EPA research on the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, a common procedure that injects water and chemicals into wells under high pressure to break up rock and unlock oil and natural gas.

Elizabeth O'Brien