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Lauren Greenlee’s water-related research and inventions have earned her national recognition—find out what brought this brilliant mind to Northwest Arkansas and, better yet, what’s keeping her here.
TITLE: Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas
CITY: Fayetteville
Where did you grow up? How did you end up in Northwest Arkansas?

I was born in North Carolina but mostly grew up about 45 minutes west of Philadelphia. When I was growing up, it was mostly farmland, so living here I think reminds me of home. I had an offer to join the chemical engineering department at the University of Arkansas in 2015 as an assistant professor. I really loved the people I met – the campus, the feel of the town – and it was a great opportunity for the next step in my career.

What was your immediate impression of the region?

I honestly had no idea what to expect. I had never been here before I visited the university and my department, and I felt like it was a great community on campus and in Fayetteville. I moved here from Boulder, Colo., and people had a lot of opinions about the move. Honestly, I was really excited about starting my job as a professor and taking this next step professionally. It seemed to me like people on campus really enjoyed it here, the small town and their day-to-day lifestyles, so I was excited to be in a new place and try it out. Moving is always hard because you have to start over in a way, find new friends and figure out the place. All of Northwest Arkansas has really grown on me. People told me there were great trails here. I’m a runner and mountain biker, so I was excited to check them out. I love the easy day-to-day of living in a small town, and I really love the outdoors. That, on top of really enjoying my work and the students I get to teach and mentor, makes the region a great place to be.

I would say my first impression of the region really involved realizing how accessible and amazing all of the outdoor activities are here – hiking, biking, trails, water. And then starting to find all of the many unique local businesses and places that make Northwest Arkansas special.

What was your immediate impression of the region?

I honestly had no idea what to expect. I had never been here before I visited the university and my department, and I felt like it was a great community on campus and in Fayetteville. I moved here from Boulder, Colo., and people had a lot of opinions about the move. Honestly, I was really excited about starting my job as a professor and taking this next step professionally. It seemed to me like people on campus really enjoyed it here, the small town and their day-to-day lifestyles, so I was excited to be in a new place and try it out. Moving is always hard because you have to start over in a way, find new friends and figure out the place. All of Northwest Arkansas has really grown on me. People told me there were great trails here. I’m a runner and mountain biker, so I was excited to check them out. I love the easy day-to-day of living in a small town, and I really love the outdoors. That, on top of really enjoying my work and the students I get to teach and mentor, makes the region a great place to be.

I would say my first impression of the region really involved realizing how accessible and amazing all of the outdoor activities are here – hiking, biking, trails, water. And then starting to find all of the many unique local businesses and places that make Northwest Arkansas special.

How has your view of the region evolved? What keeps you here?

I’ve been amazed at all of the local efforts to grow community and make this a great place to be. I love everything from our farmers’ markets and all of the fresh produce and meat and flowers, to our local coffee shops, restaurants, food trucks, breweries and stores. I love, for example, that graduates from engineering have started local breweries and showcase work from local artists. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of the local startup community, and there are just so many people doing great things. I continue to find new places I love, and part of that is that new places are popping up all the time. I think what keeps me here is both finding my job really rewarding and exciting and really enjoying continuing to explore the region. I like that people love it here and want it to be a great place for everyone here. And I have great friends and partnerships that continue to grow.

Where do you like to spend your time in the region?

I love to run on the bike trails, around Lake Fayetteville and out at Lake Wedington. I love mountain biking out at Hobbs State Park and up in Bentonville and Blowing Springs. I love going to see shows at TheatreSquared, getting coffee at Arsaga’s and going to the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market. I also love our local breweries –Columbus House and Boston Mountain Brewing. I love the sweet potato fries and sandwiches at Hammontree’s. I love the flow yoga classes at Elxr Yoga Lounge.

How has your view of the region evolved? What keeps you here?

I’ve been amazed at all of the local efforts to grow community and make this a great place to be. I love everything from our farmers’ markets and all of the fresh produce and meat and flowers, to our local coffee shops, restaurants, food trucks, breweries and stores. I love, for example, that graduates from engineering have started local breweries and showcase work from local artists. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of the local startup community, and there are just so many people doing great things. I continue to find new places I love, and part of that is that new places are popping up all the time. I think what keeps me here is both finding my job really rewarding and exciting and really enjoying continuing to explore the region. I like that people love it here and want it to be a great place for everyone here. And I have great friends and partnerships that continue to grow.

Where do you like to spend your time in the region?

I love to run on the bike trails, around Lake Fayetteville and out at Lake Wedington. I love mountain biking out at Hobbs State Park and up in Bentonville and Blowing Springs. I love going to see shows at TheatreSquared, getting coffee at Arsaga’s and going to the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market. I also love our local breweries –Columbus House and Boston Mountain Brewing. I love the sweet potato fries and sandwiches at Hammontree’s. I love the flow yoga classes at Elxr Yoga Lounge.

Describe NW Arkansas in Four Words

Woods, trails, arts and community.

Lauren Greenlee
How do you describe the region to those that haven’t been here?

I would say that Northwest Arkansas and Arkansas are not what you think! The region is beautiful rolling hills, creeks, water, green trees and wonderful towns with amazing arts, music and businesses. My advice would be to get out and explore. Take your time to check out the local businesses, explore our trails, see a play or a musical and get a feel for all the different flavors of the region.

Someone that has never been to the region is coming for 24 hours, what should they do, where should they go?

Depending on the weather and the season: outdoors, the trails around Crystal Bridges are beautiful and for an indoor day, the Crystal Bridges Museum itself is wonderful. In Fayetteville, on a Saturday, go to the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, then the Dirty Apron Bakehouse for breakfast. Bike ride on our bike path up and around Lake Fayetteville, happy hour at Columbus House and then hit up the food trucks on College Ave. or Dickson St.

How do you describe the region to those that haven’t been here?

I would say that Northwest Arkansas and Arkansas are not what you think! The region is beautiful rolling hills, creeks, water, green trees and wonderful towns with amazing arts, music and businesses. My advice would be to get out and explore. Take your time to check out the local businesses, explore our trails, see a play or a musical and get a feel for all the different flavors of the region.

Someone that has never been to the region is coming for 24 hours, what should they do, where should they go?

Depending on the weather and the season: outdoors, the trails around Crystal Bridges are beautiful and for an indoor day, the Crystal Bridges Museum itself is wonderful. In Fayetteville, on a Saturday, go to the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, then the Dirty Apron Bakehouse for breakfast. Bike ride on our bike path up and around Lake Fayetteville, happy hour at Columbus House and then hit up the food trucks on College Ave. or Dickson St.

Ok, take us to school! Tell us what you do in laymen’s terms.

We develop nanomaterials and new technologies for water treatment, nutrient recovery from wastewaters and next-generation energy technologies. We make new materials, design systems and evaluate how they perform. We try to understand how the chemistry of the materials is connected to how they work. We are interested in solving current problems in water contamination, water sustainability and energy sustainability.

What is something that we might be surprised to know about water?

Well, water molecules are so unique because of how the hydrogen atoms associate with the oxygen atoms, so water forms different structures at the nanoscale and in special scenarios, such as when in a single layer or in confined spaces. Maybe people are more aware now because of events that have been in the news, but our drinking water treatment plants do really well at removing the majority of contaminants – it is often our distribution systems that can be a problem, and the U.S. faces major challenges in aging infrastructure. Water reuse is in our future, where wastewater is treated and then used as drinking water, and this approach can not only be sustainable but also safe as long as we evaluate treatment processes and make sure they are effective.

Any startup advice?

Wow, well, it’s tough, so surround yourself with mentors and people who can help you learn, pick good partners and team members, and remember to just take it one day at a time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And go for it – follow your passion.

What causes are you passionate about? What inspires you?

I am passionate about mentoring and supporting young women who are trying to pursue their dreams through education, especially in engineering and the sciences. I love being a mentor to students and helping them figure out what they want to do and how to go about it. I am passionate about supporting local businesses. I get really inspired when I see people out there making an impact in the world through their passions and dreams. It makes me motivated to keep going myself!

What is your hope for the future of the region? The University of Arkansas?

I would love to see us, as a community and with the university, continue to grow high-tech start ups so that we can keep some of our engineering and science graduates in the area. Many of them leave for bigger cities but would love to stay here – I would love to see us continue to be able to grow our local businesses so we can retain more of our fantastic graduates.

I hope we can continue to be a place where people from all backgrounds can come, learn, grow and work toward the future they want. And I hope that we can build and grow from where we are both in education and research. I see the University of Arkansas as a place that has tremendous opportunities to educate generations of students that will contribute in many ways to our region.

What causes are you passionate about? What inspires you?

I am passionate about mentoring and supporting young women who are trying to pursue their dreams through education, especially in engineering and the sciences. I love being a mentor to students and helping them figure out what they want to do and how to go about it. I am passionate about supporting local businesses. I get really inspired when I see people out there making an impact in the world through their passions and dreams. It makes me motivated to keep going myself!

What is your hope for the future of the region? The University of Arkansas?

I would love to see us, as a community and with the university, continue to grow high-tech start ups so that we can keep some of our engineering and science graduates in the area. Many of them leave for bigger cities but would love to stay here – I would love to see us continue to be able to grow our local businesses so we can retain more of our fantastic graduates.

I hope we can continue to be a place where people from all backgrounds can come, learn, grow and work toward the future they want. And I hope that we can build and grow from where we are both in education and research. I see the University of Arkansas as a place that has tremendous opportunities to educate generations of students that will contribute in many ways to our region.

Learn more about Lauren’s research and her startup CatalyzeH2O below.

Inventor Spotlight

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