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Erica Hartmann

Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Erica Hartmann

I hope that my work will change the way people think about the chemicals and microbes that surround us in order to make the world safer, healthier, and more sustainable.”

Erica Hartmann is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering. Her research focuses on understanding, at the molecular level, how microbial communities respond to anthropogenic chemicals and using this information to influence real-world outcomes, especially by controlling the spread of undesirable traits like antibiotic resistance. Erica leads the Hartmann Lab and is affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences Graduate Program in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?

The world around us is full of microbes. I study how the chemicals that we use every day affect those microbes and how the microbes, in turn, might affect us.

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.

I was always fascinated by biology. It's just such an exciting field. My interest in microbes specifically arose when I was a first-year in college. A professor came to give a presentation on bioremediation—the use of microbes to degrade toxic environmental pollutants. I went up straight up to him after the lecture and said, “This is what I want to do! How do I get involved?” Long story short: he became my PhD adviser!

What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?

Advances in chemistry have vastly improved the quality of human life, but at the same time, we have to be careful not to use chemicals with abandon. I hope that my work will change the way people think about the chemicals and microbes that surround us in order to make the world safer, healthier, and more sustainable. 

What books are on your bedside table?

I love literature, especially surrealism, magical realism, or postmodernism. My latest reads are Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. 

What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?

One of the most challenging recurring themes in academia, or maybe life, is failure. Experiments don't work. Papers and proposals get rejected. Just remember: don't force it, get a bigger hammer.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

I am incredibly proud to see my trainees continue to advance their careers, whether that's high school students getting into prestigious colleges, undergrads going on to pursue PhDs or MDs, or grads and postdocs moving on to exciting positions in industry, academia, or government. It's always sad to say goodbye but so wonderful to see people continue to grow and succeed. 

Published: October 20, 2020 

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