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UT Arlington Ph.D. student recognized for human rights writing

University of Texas at Arlington

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IMAGE: UT Arlington student Wasiu Adedapo Lawal took top honors in an AAAS essay competition. view more

Credit: UT Arlington

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has honored a UT Arlington College of Science Ph.D. student with a first place award for his unique essay on the intersection of science and human rights.

Wasiu Adedapo Lawal was among 53 students from 11 countries to enter the first student essay competition from the Science and Human Rights Coalition of the AAAS. His essay, "Water as a Friend and a Right," focused on the undeniable need for water and the role environmental scientists play in making it available. Woven through his essay were lyrics from a song called "Water No Get Enemy" by Nigerian human rights activist and singer Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

Lawal was born in the United States and grew up in Nigeria. As a young man, he saw firsthand how lack of water infrastructure could lead to inequities among people in a community. The goal of his education and research has been to learn more about making water more widely available and making sure it is safe for use. He hopes to one day take that knowledge back to Nigeria.

"I have ties there, and it's a place I need to help," he said. "We have issues here but nothing near the issues they have there."

Lawal plans to graduate in 2015 with a doctorate in earth and environmental science with an emphasis in environmental engineering. He also is president of the UT Arlington Graduate Student Senate for 2014-2015.

"We are proud to see Wasiu honored at the national level for his ability to connect classroom learning and laboratory experiences with society's challenges," said James Grover, interim dean of the UT Arlington College of Science.

Judges for the AAAS contest included officials from the Council for Undergraduate Research and the Department of Energy. Professors from Mount Sinai Hospital, Georgetown University and American University also served as judges. Lawal won first place in the graduate student division. Another winner was chosen in the undergraduate field.

"The judges appreciated the way he drew connections between this important human rights issue and the related needs of scientific research, training, and monitoring," said Theresa Harris, senior program associate for the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program. "His essay rose to the top because of his knowledge of the issues and his creative response to the call for essays."

Lawal said he is a fan of the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, also known as just Fela. Using the song in his essay seemed natural because its message - that water is necessary for everything - fit so well.

wal holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree in chemistry. He's currently working in the lab of UT Arlington Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Hyeok Choi.

Lawal's work is focused on finding ways to remove the organic contaminant PFOA from water. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, has been used in hundreds of manufacturing and industrial applications but has been shown to cause "developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lawal has a passion for water issues that led him to UT Arlington and that passion drives his contributions to important water treatment research, Choi said.

"I think Wasiu has a huge potential for making an impact in the field of science," Choi said. "Science needs people like him who will always think and ask questions about the social and societal impacts of the things that we do."

As part of his first place prize, Lawal's essay is being considered for publication in the journals Professional Ethics Review and the Journal of the International Association of Official Statistics.

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About UT Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 38,000 students around the world and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more. Follow #UTAdna on Twitter.

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