For the Media

Search Archive


Contact Us

Main & Health Science Campus
University Hall

Room: 2110
Mail Stop 949
Phone: 419.530.2002
Fax: 419.530.4618

Ritter Planetarium Showing ‘Spooky Space’ Through October

The University of Toledo Ritter Planetarium is featuring an immersive show in full dome through October exploring cosmic connections to Halloween.

For ages 6 and up, “Spooky Space” is showing on Saturdays at 1 p.m. through Oct. 29.

“‘Spooky Space’ is a great Halloween show for families,” said Dr. Michael Cushing, professor of physics and astronomy and director of Ritter Planetarium. “Visitors will be able to explore the sky and outer space by meeting the space counterparts to spooky characters like ghosts, vampires and witches.”

Admission to the program is $8 for adults and $6 for children, senior citizens and UToledo community members. Doors will open 30 minutes prior to the show.

Ritter Planetarium also is showing “Secrets of the Universe” on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. through Oct. 28.

Secrets of the Universe is a sweeping science adventure that immerses audiences in the greatest mysteries of our time. The answers await at the collision points of intellect and imagination, of theory and experiment, of the tiniest particles and most powerful forces in the universe.

For more information about the fall programs, visit the Ritter Planetarium website.

UToledo Celebrating Muslim Heritage Month Through October

In celebration and recognition of Muslim Heritage Month in October, The University of Toledo Office of Multicultural Student Success and the Muslim Students Association have scheduled several events throughout the month beginning with an introductory event featuring Mediterranean sweets on Monday, Oct. 3, in the Thompson Student Union.

The event is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will include information about Muslim Heritage Month.

Other campus events and activities planned for Muslim Heritage Month include:

  • Thursday, Oct. 6, at 6 p.m. in Thompson Student Union — Halaqa, an educational and informational discussion about Islam to help raise awareness about the faith and its principles.
  • Thursday, Oct. 20, at 6 p.m. Thompson Student Union Auditorium — Interfaith Panel discussion. Religious leaders from a multitude of faiths will discuss the commonalities and differences between their beliefs and practices in a dialogue that will include a Q&A.
  • Friday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. in the Flats — “Bond”-Fire. With a roaring fire as the backdrop, this three-hour event will include games, music, pizza and s’mores.



UToledo Celebrating LGBTQA+ History Month Through October

In celebration and recognition of LGBTQA+ History Month, which runs through October, The University of Toledo Office of Multicultural Student Success, the student organization Sexuality and Gender Alliance and the Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women have scheduled several events throughout the month.

The celebration begins on Monday, Oct. 3, with the LGBTQA+ History Month kickoff from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Thompson Student Union Trimble Lounge. The event will feature history trivia, pronoun button making and a photo backdrop.

“OMSS is happy to host another LGBTQA+ History Month to highlight the history and important contributions of LGBTQA+ folks in the UToledo community,” said Aleiah Jones, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Student Success. “I am looking forward to working with our campus partners to provide meaningful programming for campus.”

Other campus events and activities for LGBTQA+ History Month include:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 5 — LGBTQA+ Affirming Healthcare Panel, 5:30 p.m. in Carlson Library Room 1005.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 12 — Loving Your Queerness, in celebration of National Coming Out Day from noon to 2:30 p.m. in Thompson Student Union Trimble Lounge. Get a self-portrait taken in front of a rainbow closet door or color in body positivity coloring books.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 18 — Let’s Talk About Sex – Sexual Health Clinic, which will provide HIV testing and safe sex supplies, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Center for Advocacy and Student Experience in Thompson Student Union Room 2518.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 19 — Diversity Career Connections: LGBTQ+ Professionals Networking Night at 6 p.m. in Carlson Library Room 1005. Find out what it is like to be a LGBTQA+ professional in today’s world.
  • Wednesday, October 20 — LGBTQA+ History Month Watch Night at 6 p.m. in the Office of Multicultural Student Success Lounge in Thompson Student Union Room 2500. The Office of Multicultural Student Success will screen “The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson,” a documentary about a trans activist who was a trailblazer in the fight for LGBTQA+ civil rights.

Carlson Library and the Office of Multicultural Student Success also teamed up to observe and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer history by displaying a traveling exhibition from the Stonewall National Museum and Archives. It will be on display later in the month.


UToledo Homecoming Honors 150 Years of University History

The University of Toledo is celebrating Homecoming this week with activities to engage currents students and alumni returning to campus.

This year’s theme, Rockets Flashback, is part of the University’s yearlong sesquicentennial celebration.

“Homecoming is The University of Toledo’s longest-standing tradition and is a representation of Rockets of the past, present and future,” said Dr. Sammy Spann, vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “It gives me great pride to be a part of it. I love our UToledo students and how they continue the traditions that are so important to UToledo and its history.”

The campus community will enjoy food trucks on Centennial Mall, a petting zoo and an outdoor movie night on the University Hall lawn.

And distinguished alumni will be recognized at the annual Homecoming Gala at 6 p.m. Friday in Thompson Student Union Auditorium. The Alumni Association will present this year’s Gold T, Daniel Saevig Blue T and Edward H. Schmidt Young Alum Award, and distinguished alumni from each college also will be recognized.

“We’re proud to celebrate 150 years of life-changing education at UToledo and Homecoming is only the start,” said President Gregory Postel. “In the coming months, we’ll continue to honor this tremendous milestone with Rockets here in northwest Ohio and around the world.”

Rockets everywhere will come together to celebrate Homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 1, with a parade and tailgate party leading up to the football game. Events include:

  • The Edward C. and Helen G. Schmakel Homecoming Parade sponsored by Blue Key National Honor Society beginning at 10 a.m. The route will begin at West Bancroft Street and Campus Road and go east to Cheltenham Road to Christie Street to Middlesex Drive and back to West Bancroft Street.
  • Alumni Pregame Party from noon to 3:30 p.m. in the William and Carol Koester Alumni Pavilion. Stop by for a free hot dog, chips and non-alcoholic beverages. There will be a cash bar for those 21 and older with proper ID.
  • The Toledo Rockets vs. Central Michigan University Chippewas football game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. in the Glass Bowl. Homecoming Parade float winners will be announced at the game, and there will be an iconic halftime performance from the Rocket Marching Band.

Attendance to the homecoming football game is free for students. Other fans can purchase tickets through the Athletics website.

A promotional offer also is available to UToledo alumni to attend the game at a discounted price with $5 of every ticket sale donated to the Rocket Boost Scholarship. For more information, call the Rocket Ticket Office at 419.530.4653 or visit the website.

For more information about homecoming week events, go to the Homecoming website.

Study Shows How Turtles Fared Decade After Oil Spill

Twelve years after an oil spill coated nearly 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River, new research at The University of Toledo confirms that turtles rehabilitated in the aftermath of the disaster had high long-term survival rates.

Turtles were the most commonly captured oiled animals following a ruptured Enbridge pipeline near Marshall, Mich., in July 2010 that spilled 843,000 gallons of oil into a tributary creek of the river, one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

Immediately following the spill, nearly 8% of recovered northern map turtles died.

One of the first environmental responders on the scene was biologist Josh Otten, lead author of the new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution who graduated in May from UToledo with a Ph.D. in biology.

Otten helped lead efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and release thousands of affected turtles in 2010 and 2011, returning eight to 11 years after the oil spill to assess the status of the turtle population as a doctoral student in the laboratory of Dr. Jeanine Refsnider, associate professor in the UToledo Department of Environmental Sciences.

He found the rehabilitation process significantly increased the monthly survival probability of northern map turtles in the 14 months following the spill, showing the importance and effectiveness of removing oil from turtles.

And the success is maintained in the long term. Up to 11 years post-spill the differences in monthly survival probability between turtles impacted by the spill and those that were not had become nearly imperceptible.

“The time, effort and money spent in the rehabilitation process of turtles is important in increasing their survival following a large oil spill disaster,” Otten said. “The Kalamazoo River northern map turtle population appears to be healthy and stable 8 to 11 years after the oil spill.”

He said a large number of adults, juveniles and hatchlings were captured and recaptured between 2018 and 2021, suggesting population growth. In addition, monthly survival rates during this time period are high.

“Rescuing and rehabilitating individual animals is relatively common practice following an environmental disaster such as an oil spill. It often is a way for volunteers and other local people to feel like they are helping to fix the problem,” Refsnider said. “However, animal rehabilitation efforts can be incredibly expensive and labor-intensive, and very few studies assess whether they are actually successful at increasing survival rates of rehabilitated individuals. This is one of the few studies that directly measured both short-term and long-term survival rates of animals after undergoing cleaning and rehabilitation due to a major oil spill.”

Otten’s Ph.D. research involved extensive recapture, radio-telemetry and nest-monitoring efforts to understand how the turtle population is doing today and to identify individual turtles that had been rescued and rehabilitated during oil spill cleanup operations in 2010.

“The scale of Josh’s study is really unprecedented — he handled several thousand turtles on nearly 50 kilometers of river over the course of this study and amassed a huge dataset of capture histories and locations for turtles over a 10-year period,” Refsnider said.

Funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the turtle population study focused on northern map turtles and estimated monthly survival rates of turtles exposed to the freshwater spill up to 14 months post-spill and then again for 8-11 years after the environmental disaster.

In 2010 and 2011, 2,100 northern map turtles impacted by the spill were captured, cleaned, rehabilitated, marked and released into the Kalamazoo River.

Of those, 63% were captured only once.

“Northern map turtles can be difficult to capture to begin with, so the chance that I would recapture them is quite low,” Otten said. “There are also other things like natural mortality, translocation and emigration that you take into account. I would guarantee there is a fair number more out there that eluded capture in the four years I was surveying. In terms of long-term turtle survey projects and detectability, the recapture rates are quite impressive.”

Northern map turtles, which may live up to 60 years, can survive for months after having been oiled, unlike mammals and birds that typically perish after a few weeks.

The study found turtles that died during the rehabilitation process while under care of veterinarians did so on average nearly 60 days after capture, revealing there may be a delayed response in turtles following an oil spill.

“This shows the importance of continued wildlife rescue following a spill, especially in the event that it involves turtles,” Otten said.

The researchers found that northern map turtles that had undergone any rehabilitation following the Kalamazoo River oil spill had a significantly higher monthly survival rate than those turtles that did not. They also found that overwintered turtles, or those turtles that spent the most time in rehab — September 2010 to May 2011 — while work to clean the river continued, had the highest monthly survival rate in the 14 months following the spill.

“There are so many unknowns regarding how the oil impacted the environment as a whole,” Otten said. “We do not know if there may have been a change in food resources, whether oil pooling in turtles’ hibernation locations impacted their survival during the winter, or even how cleanup efforts including boat traffic and erosion may have impacted turtles. Because of these variables it is important to conduct a study like this, years after a disaster, to identify trends and help inform researchers, cleanup crews and agencies on how best to spend time and resources.”

Rocket Alumni to be Celebrated at Sept. 30 Homecoming Gala

Leading up to the homecoming parade and football game on Saturday, Oct. 1, The University of Toledo Alumni Association will recognize distinguished graduates at the Homecoming Alumni Gala at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, in the Thompson Student Union Auditorium.

In addition to honoring alumni from UToledo’s colleges, each year three alumni are selected for the Alumni Association’s most prestigious honors: The Gold T, Daniel Saevig Blue T and Edward H. Schmidt Outstanding Young Alum awards.

Gold T Award

The Gold T award is presented to a University of Toledo graduate in recognition of outstanding achievement in his or her field of endeavor while providing leadership and noteworthy service to the community.

The 2021 Gold T award will be presented to Shannetta Griffin, a 1985 graduate of UToledo who has close to 40 years of experience as a professional engineer and a small business advocate within the private and public sectors of the transportation industry, with an emphasis on aviation. She was appointed associate administrator of airports for the Federal Aviation Administration in June 2021.

Daniel J. Saevig Blue T Award

The Daniel J. Saevig Blue T award is presented to a University of Toledo Alumni Association member and UToledo graduate who has made outstanding contributions to the progress and development of the Alumni Association and the University.

Laurie Adams, a 1986 UToledo graduate, received her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and has become a recognized leader in traffic and safety across Ohio and in southeast Michigan. Adams works with communities to develop safety initiatives, access management regulations and Safe Routes to School plans. She continues to serve as a Rocket on several boards and committees at her alma mater. In 2015, she was named the Civil Engineering Outstanding Alumna.

Edward H. Schmidt Outstanding Young Alum Award

The Edward H. Schmidt Outstanding Young Alum award is presented to a University graduate who is 40 years of age or younger in recognition of outstanding achievement in their career while providing leadership and noteworthy service to the Alumni Association, University or community. This award is named in memory of Ed Schmidt, a 1942 alumnus and a longtime supporter of The University of Toledo and its Alumni Association.

Danielle Lutman, who received her bachelor’s degree in 2015 and her master’s degree in 2017 from UToledo, has served as a trailblazer for LGBTQA+ initiatives, equity and inclusion on the University’s campuses. She worked to establish gender-neutral housing and bathrooms on campus and was part of the planning committee for Take Back the Night Toledo, a local grassroots event to raise awareness of sexual and domestic violence.

Homecoming Parade and Football Game

The Edward C. and Helen G. Schmakel Homecoming Parade sponsored by Blue Key National Honor Society is 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1. This year’s theme, Rockets Flashback, is part of the University’s yearlong sesquicentennial celebration. The route will begin at West Bancroft Street and Campus Road and go east to Cheltenham Road to Christie Street to Middlesex Drive and back to West Bancroft Street.

The Toledo Rockets vs. Central Michigan University Chippewas football game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. in the Glass Bowl. Homecoming Parade float winners will be announced at the game, and there will be an iconic halftime performance from the Rocket Marching Band.


APLU Awards UToledo Public Impact Research Award for Water Task Force

Out of its 250 public research and land-grant universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities selected The University of Toledo as the 2022 recipient of its Public Impact Research Award in recognition of the work by the Water Task Force to improve lives and serve the community.

UToledo’s Water Task Force, which was formed in response to the city of Toledo’s “Do Not Drink” water advisory in 2014 during a toxic algal bloom, is made up of more than 30 faculty members from across the University working to protect water quality and the health of Lake Erie for the half million people in the region who depend on the drinking water source.

UToledo scientists, engineers, medical researchers and public health and legal experts collaborate closely to advance ways to improve water quality and inform stakeholders about their latest research findings.

“Congratulations to The University of Toledo for winning the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Council on Research Public Impact Research Award,” said Debbie Altenburg, associate vice president for research policy and government affairs at APLU. “Public Impact Research is at the heart of public research universities’ mission and we’re thrilled to highlight The University of Toledo’s extraordinary efforts to harness its research enterprise to restore safe drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Toledo residents.”

The APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization whose members are comprised of public research universities, university systems and affiliated organizations across all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and several territories in Canada and Mexico.

“This is an exciting time in our history to receive such a prestigious honor as we celebrate UToledo’s sesquicentennial,” UToledo President Gregory Postel said. “For 150 years UToledo has been committed to serving both our students and our community. We are grateful to the APLU for recognizing the hard work and tremendous impact of our faculty researchers in their mission to protect our community from harmful algal blooms and other issues that threaten our water sources.”

In the aftermath of the Toledo water crisis, UToledo faculty worked together and made advances in monitoring cyanotoxin levels in the lake and new biomedical research aimed at better understanding how harmful algal blooms impact the health of individuals who spend time on or near the lake.

Several leaders in the region wrote letters in support of the recognition from APLU, noting how UToledo researchers help them address water quality challenges.

“Although there is clear evidence of the health effects of cyanotoxins, less is known about exposures to those with pre-existing conditions, such as liver or kidney disease,” said Eric Zgodzinski, health commissioner of the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. “This is a topic of intense interest from UToledo faculty members in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences and relates directly to the concerns of the Lucas County Health Department, given the prevalence of people in our community with pre-existing medical conditions.”

Zgodzinski also highlighted UToledo’s COVID-19 wastewater testing program to provide advance warning of COVID-19 in our community.

Edward Moore, director of public utilities with the City of Toledo, said UToledo faculty been instrumental in monitoring the quality of water in Lake Erie at water intake sources and in collaborating with his water treatment team in the use of new systems to maintain water quality standards that meet or exceed the criteria of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Environmental scientists at the University’s Lake Erie Center provide us with advance warning of algae blooms, giving us time to make adjustments to protect our drinking water,” Moore said. “They have also developed predictive models for algal bloom severity, diagnostic tests for toxin exposure and faster, easier methods of measuring algal toxins.”

Michael Beazley, former city administrator for the City of Oregon, recognized the breadth of expertise across disciplines to provide technical support and advice.

“Faculty members from the College of Engineering have been monitoring the impact of ozone peroxidation on biological filter performance and drinking water quality since 2017,” Beazley said. “In addition, they have been working to understand the fate of cyanobacteria and their toxins in drinking water treatment residuals which are reused for agricultural application — critical research, given the significance of agriculture to our community.”

“The amazing work and commitment of the Water Task Force faculty members and their students over the years has brought international recognition to the University in water research while providing important expertise to our community,” said Dr. Frank Calzonetti, vice president for research at UToledo.

UToledo will accept the APLU Public Impact Research Award at the association’s annual meeting in November in Denver.

UToledo to Host Dialogue on Diversity to Discuss Title IX 50th Anniversary

The University of Toledo is continuing its Dialogues on Diversity series with a conversation about the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

The virtual event will take place today 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, on Webex

Panelists include:

  • Bryan Blair, vice president for intercollegiate athletics and director of athletics;
  • Vicky Kulicke, director of Title IX and compliance and Title IX coordinator;
  • Lindsay Tuttle, manager of Title IX compliance, prevention and assessment;
  • Kennedy Lovell, a master’s student studying English who graduated in the spring with bachelor’s degrees in English and communication and set school records in the 100- and 200-meter freestyles; and
  • Malaika Bell, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“Though Title IX has been around for 50 years, the education and conversation surrounding these critical issues must be continual and ever evolving, and Dialogue on Diversity is an important and safe space in which these conversations can happen,” Kulicke said. “The Title IX Office is grateful to be a part of this panel and offer insight regarding our thoughts and contributions as well as learn from new perspectives.”

The moderator is Alex Lewin, director of the UToledo Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards.

The event also will feature a presentation from Mattea Carveiro, graduate assistant for residence life at Miami University who interned over the summer for the UToledo Title IX Office.

The University of Toledo is a community that celebrates and respects people of all backgrounds and experiences. As an institution, we remain committed to building an inclusive environment free of racism, sexism, bigotry and other negative influences.

25th Annual Vigil for Banned Books Week Sept. 22

For more than two decades at The University of Toledo, students, faculty, staff and the Toledo community have joined together annually in a celebration of the right to read and think freely.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the University’s Banned Books Week Vigil.

The event is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, in Health and Human Services Building Room 1711B on Main Campus.

Dr. Paulette Kilmer, professor of communication and coordinator of the UToledo Banned Books Coalition, said this year’s Banned Books Vigil is as relevant as when it started.

“In 2021, book-banning incidents increased and state legislatures across the country wrote laws to prevent libraries and bookstores from giving people access to controversial novels,” Kilmer said. “Over the past quarter of a century, a legion of speakers has shown us the ways that censorship threatens our personal freedom and our democracy.”

The American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, which was launched in 1982, inspired UToledo’s celebration. The ALA sets aside a week to reflect on the power of books and reading to inspire, educate and challenge us, she said.

In that year, a record number of books, including classics like John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” were banned. As time passed, LBGTQ+ and race motivated many challenges. For example, frequently restricted titles include Alex Gino’s “Melissa’s Story (George),” which focuses on a transgender girl, and Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” about a 16-year-old Black girl who sees a white police officer fatally shoot her best friend during a traffic stop.

“The dictionary, all the holy books, and “Winnie the Pooh” were banned because they offended someone,” Kilmer said. “A library that offends nobody will consist of empty shelves because pleasing everyone is impossible.”

Topics and speakers will be:

  • 9:30 a.m. — “Don’t Say ‘Genocide’” by Dr. Barbara Mann, professor in the Jesup Scott Honors College.
  • 10 a.m. — “They Banned My Book, so I Wrote Another,” by Aya Khalil, award-winning Ohio children’s book author.
  • 10:30 a.m. — “‘Gentle Reader’: Examining Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and the Ethics of Trigger Warnings,” by Jodi Jameson, professor and nursing librarian at Mulford Library.
  • 11 a.m. — “Banning Books and Chilling Conversations: Ohio HB 616 ‘Regarding Promoting and Teaching Divisive or Inherently Racist Concepts in Public Schools,’” by Dr. Lynne Hamer, professor of social and philosophical foundations in the Judith Herb College of Education.
  • 11:30 a.m. — “Banned while Black,” by Professor Angela Siner, director of the Africana Studies Program.
  • Noon — Dr. Linda Smith Lecture: “The History of the War against Women.” by Warren Woodberry, Toledo author, playwright and youth chess coach.
  • 1 p.m. — “The ‘Ugly’ Experiences of African American Girls—The Bluest Eye,” by Kyndra Gaines, African American initiatives coordinator in the UToledo Office of Multicultural Student Success.
  • 1:30 p.m. — “A Profound Fear of Poetic Imagery,” by Jonie McIntire, poet laureate of Lucas County.
  • 2 p.m. — “Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill & Other Educational Gag Orders,” by Dr. Sharon Barnes, associate professor and chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.
  • 2:30 p.m. — Banned Books Jeopardy!
  • 3 p.m. — “Censoring Words from Headscarves to Internationally Acclaimed Publications,” by Dr. Asma Abdel Halim, professor of women’s and gender studies.
  • 3:30 p.m. — “Sister Eileen and Her Boyz: An Excerpt from HIV in the Rust Belt,” by Holly Hey, professor of film.
  • 4 p.m. — “Reading and Writing in Prison from the Inside Out and the Outside In,” Dr. Renee Heberle, professor of political science, co-director of the Program in Law and Social Thought and coordinator of the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Project.
  • 4:30 p.m. — “The Clear Channel Memorandum,” by Risa Cohen, creative director of Sing into Reading.

Free books, door prizes and light refreshments will be offered all day, as well as extra credit vouchers for classes.

“It’s the best day of the year,” Kilmer said. “We laugh a lot, and yet, the speakers raise our awareness of the shadow censorship casts over free expression. They show us how reading expands our horizons and kindles empathy, inspiring us to make the world a better place.”

A free banned-book trivia competition also is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, in Carlson Library Room 1005.

For more information about the 25th annual Banned Books Week Vigil, visit the UToledo Banned Books Coalition website.

UToledo First in U.S. to Test Advanced, Real-Time Algae Sensor at Water Treatment Plant

As danger looms in bodies of water globally where toxic algae blooms, a small plastic storage tub in Toledo sealed to protect against splashes, spiders and bird stool may contain a game-changing technology in the fight against the growing environmental problem.

Algae scientists at The University of Toledo are testing a real-time optical sensor at the Toledo Water Treatment Plant as part of its source water monitoring to protect the public drinking water supply during harmful algal bloom season.

Every 15 minutes the device takes a sip of Lake Erie water coming into the plant, reads the sample and puts the measurement data online for researchers and water utility managers to remotely access.

Its biggest value is the ability to tell whether tiny single-celled organisms known as cyanobacteria that compose harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie are fragile and starting to break open. If the cells break open, they release toxin. Dissolved toxin is more challenging for water treatment plants to remove because it can pass through filters and must be removed by chemical means before water leaves the plant for our faucets.

Since July, UToledo scientists have checked on the device’s wires and tubing to make sure it’s operating properly. They’re also doing laboratory experiments at the UToledo Lake Erie Center that are showing the technology is working the way it’s expected.

“Our work this summer with the PhycoSens device is the first test of this online algae monitoring system at a drinking water plant in the U.S.,” said Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, professor of ecology and director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center. “If we show success at the Toledo Water Treatment Plant and throughout the region to immediately detect and notify of toxin release, then it can be scaled up nationwide. So far it’s showing great promise.”

The test deployment of the advanced monitoring sensor system is part of a $1.4 million UToledo project funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that began more than a year ago and focuses on early detection and management of harmful algal blooms.

Since the 2014 Toledo water crisis left half a million residents without safe tap water for three days, researchers have greater clarity that it’s not just the size and appearance of the algal bloom that matters, but what is happening in the cells.

Bridgeman’s devices made by the German company bbe Moldaenke use optical sensors to measure in real time how much and what kind of algae are coming into the water treatment plant, including cyanobacteria. More importantly, the sensors can provide a warning of the cyanobacteria cells breaking open and leaking their contents, including any toxins that they may contain, into the water.

“A large release of toxin can happen in a matter of hours, and it is critical for water plant operators to have this information so they can adjust their treatment levels quickly, before dissolved toxin can get through the plant,” Bridgeman said. “The data are produced every few minutes, which makes it a useful early warning tool for a potentially rapidly changing algal situation.”

Notable for researchers is data collected in late July showing the peak of the bloom and its decline.

“So far we have not detected any of that cell breakage at the water treatment plant or near the water intake out in the lake using the automated sensor, which is good news,” Bridgeman said. “However, UToledo crews on our research vessel taking water samples out in the lake throughout Lake Erie’s western basin — not near the water intake — have detected cell breakage using the manual version of the same device this season.”

Bridgeman said that cell breakage events leading to large releases of dissolved toxin don’t happen every year in Lake Erie.

“It happened in 2019 and possibly in 2014 but not to a large extent this summer, at least not near the water treatment plant’s water intake out in the lake,” Bridgeman said.

The Toledo Water Treatment Plant’s laboratory makes the most use of the data.

“The experimental optical sensors being tested at the raw water pump station are a useful source for both the changes and the severity of algae levels coming from the lake,” said Jeff Martin, chief chemist at the Toledo Water Treatment Plant. “We didn’t have remote access to the data until part of the way through the bloom season due to computer issues, but since then it has been a welcome tool in treatment decisions.”

Bridgeman has studied harmful algal blooms for two decades. His laboratory is one of the key locations for tracking and providing early warning of harmful algal blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie.

He said while the new instruments can detect the health, or physiological condition, of the cyanobacteria, they do not provide actual toxin readings, making them a supplemental weapon in a water utility manager’s arsenal to efficiently and economically adjust treatment to maintain drinking water safety.

“Measuring toxin still requires a separate, fairly time-consuming test,” Bridgeman said. “Therefore, the fast optical measurements will be coordinated with slower chemical toxin measurements to provide a complete picture of what is happening in the lake water that is entering the water plant.”

The device will be removed from the water treatment plant for analysis in October and then his team will study the results and potentially put it back in the plant next summer.

Bridgeman’s device monitoring tests are one part of a larger, wide-ranging project funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that also includes faculty in the UToledo College of Engineering.

Dr. Youngwoo Seo, professor of civil and environmental engineering and chemical engineering, leads the three-year project to improve water quality from the source to the tap.

Some of the technology and techniques being tested by UToledo are new to water treatment plants in the western hemisphere.

The project features two different parts working together:

  • Advanced monitoring sensors and molecular genetic analyses to enhance early harmful algal bloom detection and real-time condition diagnostic capability; and
  • Nature-inspired biological treatment methods coupled with algaecides to attack cyanobacteria and degrade toxins it produces.

Dr. Dae-Wook Kang, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, leads a molecular approach to develop a robust detection method, and his analysis will help better understand what triggers the toxin gene production of cyanobacteria.

Seo is focused on mitigation and the treatment method for toxin removal. His laboratory is working on the biological degradation of cyanobacteria and their toxins using the naturally occurring bacteria and viruses from the lake and NSF-approved chemical treatments.