In Search of Nitrogen


When scientists in the early 20th century discovered how to manufacture this nitrogen-based compound – ammonia, it was hailed as one of history’s greatest achievements. That’s because it is such a powerful fertilizer. It delivers nitrogen, an element that’s vital to plants, in a form they can use. Without manufactured ammonia, farmers could not grow anywhere near enough food to feed the world’s 8 billion people. Unfortunately, ammonia fertilizer has become so widely used that it’s now causing grave damage to the environment. The problem is nitrogen pollution—and Stanford University chemical engineer Will Tarpeh is determined to take it on.

Film Resources: Lesson Plan and Community Outreach Guide

Our partners, The Climate Initiative and the National Science Teaching Association, have created outstanding resources to accompany each of our films. Click on the buttons below to access the lesson plan and community outreach guide for In Search of Nitrogen. The classroom-ready lesson plan developed by the National Science Teaching Association highlights the science and engineering practices scientists use to explain the phenomenon of climate change. The Climate Initiative’s community outreach guide offers talking points and prompts to help foster viewer conversations about the film.

Meet the Scientist

Will Tarpeh, Ph.D.

Will Tarpeh, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering

Will Tarpeh is an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. Tarpeh’s research involves reimagining liquid waste streams as resources and enabling more efficient, less costly approaches to reducing harmful discharges to the environment. He is developing novel technologies to capture pollutants in effluent streams so that they may be used as valuable inputs to other processes. For example, municipal wastewater contains resources like energy, water, nutrients, and metals. The Tarpeh Lab develops and evaluates novel approaches to resource recovery from “waste” waters at several synergistic scales: molecular mechanisms of chemical transport and transformation; novel unit processes that increase resource efficiency; and systems-level assessments that identify optimization opportunities. His team employs understandings of electrochemistry, separations, thermodynamics, kinetics, and reactor design to preferentially recover resources from waste. They leverage these molecular-scale insights to increase the sustainability of engineered processes in terms of energy, environmental impact, and cost.

Click here to read more about Dr. Tarpeh’s work.

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