Venkataraman “Venkat” Lakshmi, a professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, is newly appointed to the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The board’s objective is to “improve the scientific and technological basis for resolving important questions and issues associated with the efficient management and use of water resources,” according to its website. Membership on the board is highly selective, with appointees chosen for their professional qualifications to serve as volunteers and individuals, not as representatives of an institution.
Trained in civil and environmental engineering with a Ph.D. from Princeton University, M.S. from the University of Iowa and B.E. from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, Lakshmi joined the faculty at UVA Engineering in 2019 after directing the National Science Foundation Hydrologic Sciences Program from July 2017 to December 2018. He began his career as a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He has held a number of appointments, including two sabbaticals at Stanford University as Cox Visiting Professor in 2006-2007 and 2015-2016. From 1999 to 2018, he served on the faculty of the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of South Carolina, including a three-year term as department chair from 2008 to 2011.
Lakshmi’s areas of research interest include catchment hydrology, satellite data validation and assimilation, field experiments, land-atmosphere interactions, the vadose zone — the area that extends from Earth’s ground surface to the water table — and water resources. He specializes in using data collected from space, aircraft and in situ systems along with hydrological and ecological models to make observations about the terrestrial water cycle and to better understand weather, climate and ecology.
Lakshmi is one of many civil and systems engineering faculty members in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment studying water resources through a variety of cross-cutting approaches, from meeting basic needs at the point-of-use through filtration systems to monitoring infrastructure through sophisticated data analysis and risk assessment. He and his colleagues are also part of a broader community of researchers at UVA Engineering addressing environmental challenges.
The Water Science and Technology Board website states that it was established in 1982 to “provide a focal point for studies related to water resources accomplished under the aegis of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.” Among its responsibilities, “the board responds to requests for evaluations and advice concerning specific and generic issues in water resources, influences action by initiating studies of issues that merit consideration by public agencies and others, identifies issues and topics of research related to water resources, and cooperates with other units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and groups with mutual interests outside the organization.”
For example, Lakshmi recently chaired a Water Science and Technology Board workshop sponsored by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, resulting in proceedings titled “Groundwater Recharge and Flow: Approaches and Challenges for Monitoring and Modeling Using Remotely Sensed Data.“ Another recent workshop in collaboration with the academies’ boards of Chemical Sciences and Technology and Environmental Studies and Toxicology addresses the problem of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — a group of widely used toxic chemicals known as PFAS — in the environment.
“It is an honor to receive this appointment,” Lakshmi said. “I am working with some of the finest scientists and engineers in the country to solve critical issues facing our nation’s water resources. The scope of the board’s work is broad, encompassing economic, policy, educational and social dimensions, in addition to science and engineering, so it’s challenging. But it is also rewarding because, in the end, it comes down to how these issues affect people in their everyday lives.”
“The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine play critical advisory roles in all matters of science and technology for the country,” said Brian L. Smith, professor and chair of the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment. “For example, the academies are part of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Those who are asked to serve on academy boards are highly regarded as among the best in their fields. Venkat fits that description, and we are lucky to have him on our faculty.”