Watch a video about Hill's latest research on the impact of space on pathogenic bacteria.
One of the School of Engineering's newest faculty members is Dr. Jane Hill. Professor Hill joins us from Yale University where she recently completed her PhD and post-doctoral research. Hill is an environmental engineer whose work focuses on the characterization, prediction and impact of microbial activity in the natural and human body environments.
A Childhood in Rural Australia
"I'm originally from rural Australia Grenfell, New South Wales to be exact," says Hill. "I grew up on a farm where we raised sheep as well as wheat. This upbringing gave me an appreciation for nature and the outdoors, and I can't imagine a better way to grow up." Grenfell's climate is "arid Mediterranean," which means lots of drought and not many bodies of water. In fact, Hill notes with a laugh, she didn't learn to swim until she was 12 years old because there was no water to swim in.
Hill's youth was a farmers' upbringing feeding animals, taking care of baby lambs, raising chickens and sheep. She and her four older sisters watched some television and listened to radio (and read a lot), but were outside most of the time. During family events, they would play cricket and table tennis, and ride horses.
"Having four older sisters was an advantage early on, but eventually, after they left home, I got all their chores," Hill says with a wry smile. She notes that her dad was a school teacher who was very passionate about science, and her mom who still resides in Australia was a homemaker and worked in the library.
In grade school, Hill quickly learned that she had an affinity for science and math, and eventually started leaning toward a career in veterinary research, chemistry, or studying for the Australian dual law/science degree. She was also serious about the arts specifically music.
"I have always loved to sing, and I eventually learned how to play the guitar and taught myself piano," Hill says. "It was very tempting to go into a career in music, but I decided to go into chemical engineering when I got a fellowship to the University of New South Wales." Hill later transferred to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, where she received her BS and Masters degrees.
From Graduate Studies to Business and Back Again
During her master's studies, Hill had the opportunity to work on some consulting projects for RPI faculty and the New York Attorney General on general environmental engineering problems. She realized there was a niche for remediation problems that were small in scope so she started G & H Biotech, LLC, with her neighbor, who was a botanist and businesswoman.
"Our central philosophy was to use municipal labor and existing municipal equipment to help our clients keep their cost down," she explains. "We considered ourselves very successful, but I realized that I wanted to learn more about what was happening with cleanup technologies, so I went back to school to earn my PhD."
Hill decided to attend Yale University where she worked on many interesting projects some of which are still ongoing in collaboration with different populations from the university. Though Yale's academic climate suited her, city life in New Haven, Connecticut, took some getting used to. However, helped by the comfortable climate, abundant theaters, music, and interesting lectures and presentations, she eventually grew to like New Haven and very much enjoyed her time there.
Burlington Quality of Life, Quality of People
One day in late 2005, while browsing through the online faculty listings of the American Society of Engineering Professors website, she saw an ad for a faculty position in the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences' School of Engineering. "I immediately thought 'Gee, Vermont would be a beautiful place to live,' " Hill says. "My choices were country or city, and I was ready to get back to my country roots. Burlington has a unique combination of high quality of life and high quality of people, and that is very difficulty to find."
Hill is excited to be in Vermont. She has enjoyed meeting other faculty members and people on campus, and she's even more impressed with Vermont and UVM after having lived here for a few months. "I have three wonderful grad students who are embarking on their doctoral careers and that's really thrilling to me, watching my students evolve and become experts in their own right."
When asked about her teaching philosophy Hill says, "I really want students to learn and truly understand some fundamental things about microbes. To that end, I'll do whatever it takes to get them there." Hill will be teaching water and waste-water engineering, biological processes, and phosphorus in water sheds. "Ultimately," she says, "I try to connect what we do in the classroom with what happens in real life."
Translating Enthusiasm into Great Research
School of Engineering faculty members are known for their research and Professor Hill is no exception. Hill recently received a 3-year grant from the USDA to study pathogenic E. coli and Salmonella bacteria in an effort to understand how they move from where they've been deposited.
"The idea is to try to predict where we might find bacteria," Hill explains. "I try and understand how organisms get from one place to another and the changes that take place in the organism in that time, as well as the changes they impart on the environment as they pass through it. The environment can be anything from soil, sediment or water in a lake to the plumbing in your body, to the plumbing in a building."
As this issue of Spire is "going to the presses," Hill is busy setting up her office and lab, keeping her research going, and preparing to teach in the Spring. "I'm just really glad to be here," she says simply. "I'm getting settled, and now I can translate my enthusiasm into good research and productive work. Engineers make things happen it's part of our blood and it's good to be able to do that even more than I could before."