Leanne Gilbertson


  • Institution:
    University of Pittsburgh
  • Scientific competencies:
    Sustainable design of emerging materials and technologies


Dr. Gilbertson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Before joining the faculty, Dr. Gilbertson was a postdoctoral associate in the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale University where she focused on elucidating and validating engineered nanomaterial structure-property-function and structure-property-hazard parametric relationships. She received her MS and PhD degrees from Yale University in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, supported through an NSF Graduate Research and EPA STAR Fellowships. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a minor in education from Hamilton College in 2007, after which she spent several years as a secondary school teacher before returning to graduate school. Her research group at the University of Pittsburgh is currently engaged in projects aimed at informing sustainable design of emerging materials and technologies proposed for use in areas at the nexus of the environment and public health. Dr. Gilbertson’s research has been recognized and is supported by the National Science Foundation, 3M non-tenured faculty award, and the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award. To find out more about her research group, please visit leannegilbertson.com and follow her on Twitter @lmgLab.


Current best-case scenarios for nitrogen- and phosphorus-fertilizer use efficiencies are 50% and 25%, respectively. These inefficiencies, when considered on the global scale, have tremendous economic and environmental consequences. For example, annual production of P-based fertilizers requires mining of a finite resource that is found in only certain parts of the world. Production of ammonia for N-based fertilizers demands >160 PJ annually (based on 2014 US consumption values). Runoff of excess nutrients causes contamination of drinking water sources and eutrophication of surface waters (e.g., the worldwide ocean dead zone is 245,000 km2). As such, there is significant opportunity for nano-enabled solutions to have a big impact on an industry that is critical to the wellbeing of the global population. Yet, choices we make about the nanomaterials used and how we design new technologies intended to increase performance have upstream (e.g., embodied resources) and downstream (e.g., emissions) implications. A systems approach to design is necessary to preclude shifting burdens to other life cycle stages and to identify unexpected, high impacts across the life cycle. In this talk, I will discuss the need for and critical issues surrounding a systems approach to designing and evaluating nano-scale solutions to advance agriculture sustainability, focusing on the context of agrochemical use efficiency.