Graduate Student Spotlight: Janis Eneida Patiño Higuita

Alumna Ph.D. ’22, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering/Water Resources Engineering

Portrait of Janis Patiño near the ocean

This spotlight is a part of our 2023 International Women's Day Feature.

What inspired you to study engineering? Describe your path to graduate studies at UC Davis. 

I have always been a curious person, and I enjoy understanding how things work. This curiosity led me to pursue engineering. I love chemistry, and I also enjoy spending time outdoors. Therefore, environmental engineering seemed like the perfect field to combine my passions and skills. During my master's studies in environmental engineering at Politecnico di Torino, I met my Ph.D. advisor from UC Davis. I decided to apply to UC Davis because of its reputation for excellent research in water resources engineering and its commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

Highlight your current research. What do you love about it, why are you excited, and how do you stay motivated? 

My current research focuses on physicochemical conditions and processes that impact the transport of colloids - tiny particles with unique surface properties such as engineered nanoparticles, microplastics, among others - through granular porous media. For example, one of my Ph.D. studies investigated the effects of pore-water chemistry, flow rate and water saturation on the transport and retention of silver colloids. Silver particles are commonly used in consumer products, and their concentrations have increased in environmental matrices, making them a potential emerging contaminant in soils and groundwater. 

What I love about my research is that it has applications to contaminant assessment in aquifer systems and groundwater remediation. My work could help improve numerical and conceptual models, making them more accurate in representing the extent of contaminant plumes and indicating the best strategy to inject a colloidal reagent in the subsoil. I stay motivated by the knowledge that my research can have a positive impact on the environment and human health. 

The 2023 International Women's Day theme is #EmbraceEquity. How do you #EmbraceEquity in the engineering field? 

As a Colombian woman with a Ph.D. in environmental engineering, I embrace equity in the engineering field by advocating for greater diversity and inclusion in academia and industry. I believe that everyone should have access to quality education and opportunities regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. 

I have been involved in the Red Colombiana de Mujeres Científicas and the Society of Women Engineers in the past, which are organizations that support and empower women in STEM fields. I also try to mentor and encourage young women who are interested in pursuing careers in engineering, particularly those from underrepresented communities. 

As part of my research team, I actively encourage diversity and inclusivity by promoting an open and collaborative work environment where everyone's ideas and perspectives are valued and respected. I believe that by embracing equity in the engineering field, we can create a more innovative and sustainable future for all. 

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