Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jonathan Levy

  • photo of Dr. Jonathan LevyDirector of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES) and Associate Professor of Geology and Environmental Earth Science
  • from Washington, DC
  • teaches courses on sustainability, the environment, and groundwater systems
  • does research on the sustainable use and development of groundwater resources, particularly in lower- and middle-income countries such as Nepal, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia

Generally speaking, my research has been focused on the sustainable use and development of groundwater resources. It comprises three major thrusts: investigation of groundwater/surface-water interaction, assessment and modeling of contaminant transport through porous media, and water acquisition and water quality in lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs).


Background

"I'm interested in addressing environmental threats to human and ecosystem health. While in graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison, I explored many different avenues for this but ended up concentrating on hydrogeology. I enjoyed the mix of geology, physics, and chemistry needed to understand such important systems that are mostly hidden from view.

"I received my B.A. in 1981 from Brown University in Religious Studies. I then moved on to acquire an M.S. in 1989 and a Ph.D. in 1993 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Environmental Studies. While in Wisconsin, my research was on groundwater quality issues, specifically pesticide contamination of local groundwater supplies."

Teaching

"I teach a variety of courses for undergraduate and graduate students in both the IES and the Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science. I really enjoy helping students become aware of and understand the physical world around them in new ways by giving them a deeper understanding of complex physical systems.

"My teaching philosophy is tied together by the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development. I teach my classes in the context of the sometimes competing, sometimes symbiotic ethical notions embedded in the concept of sustainability.

"I want my students to be able to understand scientific concepts in a much broader context, one that involves politics, culture, ethics, economics, and/or religion. This brings a multidisciplinary angle to my courses, which reflects my own background and enthusiasm for a true liberal arts education. By learning about scientific concepts applied to real-world issues and problems, students come to understand the nature of these issues and associated solutions in the proper geological, geographic, cultural and economic context.

enlarged photo of Zambian students in the lab"It's important for students to seriously consider their own place in the environment. Environmental degradation is the result of resource extraction, use, and disposal, so I want them to consider how they are living their lives, what kinds of products they buy, what kinds of vehicles they use, and what kinds of foods they eat. After all, they are now making choices that will stay with them for their entire lives.

"By developing this multidisciplinary and global outlook, I hope that my students will leave Miami with a greater understanding of global issues and diverse perspectives. My classes are designed not only to expose students to such issues, but to inspire them to travel outside of Ohio and the US to gain first-hand experiences.

"Scientific understanding has value on its own. When students gain an increased ability to see the physical world around them in new ways and with deeper and more critical thought, they can also gain a broader and deeper appreciation of the Earth and natural processes.

"As they experience the world, my hope is that they will continue giving thought to geology, drainage systems, weather and climate, topography, and biota of their environment. None of these systems are random, but in fact are the result of complex cause-and-effect relationships."

Research

"Generally speaking, my research has been focused on the sustainable use and development of groundwater resources. It comprises three major thrusts: investigation of groundwater/surface-water interaction, assessment and modeling of contaminant transport through porous media, and water acquisition and water quality in lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

enlarged photo of Miami graduate student in the field"For this third focus I have conducted research in Nepal, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa. Currently, I am focusing on Zambia, where I have been bringing Miami students to participate in investigations of water use and quality in unplanned peri-urban communities as well as the use of dye tracing to investigate a karst groundwater system in the city of Lusaka. I received a Fulbright Specialist Program grant in May 2013 to help fund this initiative and was able to teach a combined class of students from both Miami and the University of Zambia in June 2013 and again in January 2014.

"The overall goal of the Zambia project is to increase the sustainable water-management capacity of Lusaka's environmental specialists. We're expanding our collaboration with the University of Zambia to investigate various exposure pathways of toxic metal contamination in the city of Kabwe, which in 2007 was named one of the ten most polluted cities in the world.

"We've put together a large team that consists of Zambian government officials, American and Zambian earth scientists, public health specialists, remote sensing researchers, and anthropologists. Together, we'll be taking a holistic look at the problems in Kabwe and propose solutions for lessening people's harmful exposure to mine waste as well as contaminated soils, plants, air, and water."

Outside the Classroom

"I enjoy spending time with my family and friends as well as biking and swimming. I also enjoy the arts—including movies, books, TV, and food.

"One of my favorite ways to relax is through music. I have a great time playing harmonica with groups of folk, blues, rock, and country musicians in the Oxford area."

[March 2016]