Gerri Botte

2015 Distinguished Professor Dr. Gerardine Botte

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Portrait unveiling

President Roderick McDavis and Dr. Christopher France unveil Dr. Gerardine Botte's Distinguished Professor Portrait.

Photographer: Kaitlin Owens

Electrolysis display

Part of Dr. Gerardine Botte's "pee to power" invention on display.

Photographer: Kaitlin Owens

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Distinguished Professor Botte discusses Hollywood, science and Rolling Stone during lecture and portrait unveiling

Distinguished Professor Gerardine Botte was honored by the Ohio University community during the annual Distinguished Professor Lecture and portrait unveiling ceremony Feb. 23 in the ballroom at Baker University Center.

President Roderick J. McDavis opened the evening by welcoming attendees and sharing the history and tradition of the Distinguished Professor honor, which was established during President Emeritus John Calhoun Baker’s tenure by Edwin and Ruth Kennedy to further the high-quality education at Ohio University.

“The Distinguished Professor award, Ohio University’s highest academic honor, is one way we recognize faculty members who reflect our highest level of excellence,” McDavis said. “Undoubtedly, Dr. Botte will continue this legacy.”

McDavis welcomed 2014 Distinguished Professor Christopher France to introduce Botte, who is a Russ Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and is known internationally for developing the electrochemical engineering “pee-to-power” process in which hydrogen can be created from human and animal wastewater for use in fuel cells with clean water as the only byproduct.

The introduction included a video produced by University Communications and Marketing and can be viewed above. 

Before beginning her lecture, Botte thanked the graduate and undergraduate students who have been a part of her research endeavors, noting that some have been with her for more than 10 years. She also recognized her family for their support, including her mother – who traveled from Venezuela for the lecture – husband and daughters. 

In a nod to the power of women in science, Botte opened by showing a trailer from the 1997 movie “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster. In one scene, Foster tells one of her co-stars that mathematics is the only universal language. 

Botte shared how this movie, which was released during her time in graduate school, had an impact on her. 

“She was a woman who was passionate about science and mathematics!” Botte said, sharing her experience as a female in a STEM field and remembering how that passion translated from film to her own work in the lab. 

Detailing the science behind her work in urine electrolysis, dubbed “pee to power” after her 2009 research paper on the subject, Botte shared how the process has the potential to impact the amount of energy used by wastewater treatment plants, making them more efficient and environmentally friendly. Her breakthrough has been featured in a documentary and national media outlets including Rolling Stone

Botte also discussed her other current research topics, including coal electrolysis, and their applications in the biomedical field. 

“We hope that this research will ultimately help develop sensors to tell doctors the level of urea in patients with kidney problems,” Botte said. “There are so many applications of the science, from fertilizers to water disinfection to portable dialysis machines.” 

Reflecting on the future of her research and its applications, Botte shared that while there is still work to be done, the possibilities are extraordinary. 

“In a nutshell, if I could electrolyze myself, I would!” Botte said, referencing the process she uses in her research to drive chemical reactions, to laughter from the audience. 

Click here to watch the complete 2015 Distinguished Professor Lecture.