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Jessica Ray

Faculty Photo

Robert O. and Irene V. Sylvester Family Endowed Professorship in Water Resources
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Adjunct Assistant Professor
Chemical Engineering

Pronouns: she/her


Dr. Jessica Ray (she/her) is the Robert O. and Irene V. Sylvester Family endowed assistant professor in Water Resources within the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington. Ray joined the University of Washington in January 2019. Previously, Ray was a Miller Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley investigating low-cost engineered adsorbents for removal of trace contaminants in urban stormwater. This research was part of the NSF Reinventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt) engineering research center at Berkeley. Dr. Ray received her B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis in 2009. Upon graduation, Ray remained at Washington University in St. Louis to obtain a M.S. degree (2010, funded by the NSF GK-12 Graduate Research Fellowship) and a Ph.D. in Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering (2015, funded by the EPA Students to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship). During her Ph.D., Ray employed surface chemistry techniques to investigate interfacial reactions of nanomaterials in water. At the University of Washington, Ray's research program utilizes a multidisciplinary platform that bridges materials science, and environmental and surface chemistry to increase urban water supply sustainability. 


  • Ph.D. in Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering, Washington University in St. Louis, 2015
  • M.S. in Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering, Washington University in St. Louis, 2010
  • B.S. in Chemical Engineering, Washington University in St. Louis, 2009

Previous appointments

  • Miller Institute for Basic Research, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley, 2015-2018

Research Statement

Ray is developing, characterizing and applying new composite materials for selective contaminant removal in water and for enhanced degradation of persistent contaminants in waste streams. We explore structure-function relationships and survey physicochemical properties during synthesis and application of novel composites to understand their capabilities under conditions representative of real water sources. Currently, our group is creating low-cost, engineered media to remove and/or degrade contaminants in urban stormwater. We are also generating functionalized composite materials to target and destroy persistent organic compounds such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Ray is committed to nurturing an inclusive, diverse and anti-racist environment within her research group and within the department. Ray served on the department Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion faculty committee from 2019 - 2021 and worked with colleagues to institute the first faculty diversity training. In 2020, Ray's group launched an anti-racism book club for group members to grow and learn together. So far, we have read books relating to environmental racism, race relations in contemporary America, and color-blind racism. Our group is dedicated to creating and maintaining a welcoming, supportive and inclusive atmosphere through our research, mentorship and outreach activities.  

Current projects

Selective Adsorption and Destruction of PFAS


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a class of over 9,000 synthetic organic chemicals used to produce coatings and consumer products that are resistant to heat, oils, and water. These chemicals have characteristic chemically and thermodynamically stable carbon-fluorine bonds that ultimately result in their widespread prevalence in the environment, long-range transport in air, water and soil, and bioaccumulation up the food web. These compounds are also toxic which has resulted in many state-wide drinking water requirements and proposed federal drinking water regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency for select PFAS. 

Current methods to remove PFAS in drinking water sources include adsorption/separation techniques such as media filtration (e.g., granular activated carbon), membrane filtration, etc. However, these approaches are non-selective for PFAS. This is problematic because PFAS exist in very low (nanogram per liter) concentrations, and other contaminants and aquatic species that exist in much higher concentrations may compete with PFAS for removal sites. 

To overcome this limitation, our group has been developing, characterizing and applying PFAS-selective adsorbents. We first generated a more sustainably sourced granular activated carbon made from used coffee grounds on campus, then modified the surface of the carbon with a PFAS-imprinted polymeric coating which facilitates the selectivity (see Publications). Future work for this project include optimization of this selective adsorbent, tailoring specificity for short- and ultrashort-chain PFAS, and application in real PFAS-impaired waters.


Currently, there are limited field-scale technologies capable of destroying PFAS in water. Studies suggest that application of low-wavelength energy sources (e.g., ultraviolet light) in the presence of a photosensitizer (e.g., sulfite) in PFAS-containing water will produce short-lived reactive reducing species capable of cleaving carbon-fluorine bonds in PFAS. However, to achieve PFAS destruction using this approach, the water needs to be de-aerated and the water pH needs to be alkaline. 

Our group is exploring the use of MXenes (pronounced max-eens) to catalyze and facilitate destruction of PFAS in water. MXenes are a new class of two-dimensional transition metal carbides, nitrides or carbonitrides that have been primarily leveraged for energy storage applications. These materials possess rapid charge transfer kinetics, are easily modifiable and can be tuned to fit specific (electro)chemical needs. Our preliminary proof-of-concept study (see Publications) suggests that activation of vanadium carbide (V2C) MXene nanosheet dispersions in water via addition of hydrogen peroxide results in near-complete defluorination of pefluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS--one of the most commonly detected PFAS in the environment). Destruction of PFOS in our study was achieved without the need for low-oxygen and alkaline pH conditions. Future work for this project includes stabilization of V2C in water, treatment application with other PFAS analytes, and scaling this approach to treat larger volumes of PFAS-impaired water.

Ferrate Media for Wastewater Treatment

Our group is exploring the development and application of a novel ferrate-coated sand for multi-functional water treatment. Ferrate(VI) is an inorganic iron anion that possesses standard redox potentials greater than that of chlorine and ozone chemical oxidants/disinfectants used during water treatment. Furthermore, ferrate decomposes in water to form Fe(III) phases which can be applied as a coagulation agent during water treatment. Despite the clear benefits of ferrate as an environmentally benign water treatment agent, the reactivity of ferrate is limited due to its instability and rapid decomposition at environmental pH. 

Studies have suggested that addition of silica (SiO2) solids in water where ferrate treatment is applied can catalyze oxidation of trace organic contaminants and sustain ferrate reactivity. Our group is leveraging this observation to create a ferrate-coated sand media for wastewater treatment (see Publications). Sand is composed of ~80% silica and is commonly applied as a filtration media for large-scale water treatment. We have demonstrated that the stability and reactivity of this composite media will enhance oxidation of phenol (a model organic compound in water sources). Future work will continue to explore the applications of this media for multi-faceted water treatment of multiple contaminant classes, as well as assessment of treatment performance for continuous water treatment.

Removal of Urban Stormwater Runoff Contaminants

Stormwater runoff is an underappreciated nonpoint source of pollution to environmental waters. As stormwater flows over natural and engineered landscapes, it transports solid and dissolved contaminants to downstream water bodies. Reports indicate that a typical stormwater runoff chemical signature can contain several thousands of organic compounds, elevated concentrations of heavy metals (e.g., zinc, lead, copper), fecal coliform bacteria and pathogens, nutrients, and many other contaminant classes. In the United States, many cities have disconnected storm and sewer drains; therefore, all stormwater runoff is directly discharged to surface water without any opportunities to decrease contaminant loads. The installation of green stormwater infrastructure (e.g., rain gardens, bioswales, detention ponds) are a last-resort to provide some level of runoff contaminant removal before discharge. Unfortunately, data collected for these infrastructure suggest that the treatment efficacy is highly variable or completely ineffective. 

Our group seeks to improve stormwater contaminant removal via multiple pathways. Assessment of  emerging runoff contaminants: Prof. Kolodziej (UW Civil & Environmental Engineering) detected and identified a chemical reaction product of a tire-derived compound that was determined to be the causal contaminant responsible for acute mortality of coho salmon. The source of this reaction product was tire wear particles generated on road surfaces and transported via stormwater runoff to nearby creeks where salmon are spawning. Our group is working closely with the Kolodziej group to characterize the transport, stability and potential removal of this contaminant in existing stormwater infrastructure. Removal of runoff contaminants: We are also developing and characterizing soil amendments that can be applied in green stormwater infrastructure that can help enhance removal of contaminants during infiltration. Future work will also explore opportunities to facilitate subsurface oxidation of trace organic compounds in stormwater runoff.

Select publications

  1. Fanny Okaikue-Woodie and Jessica R. Ray, “Synthesis of ferrate (Fe(VI))-coated sand for stabilized reactivity and enhanced treatment of phenol” Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 2023, 11, 13552-13563, DOI:
  2. Yuemei Ye, Hojeong Bang, Vivian Jones, Kaylie Dennehy, Jessica M. Steigerwald and Jessica R. Ray, “H2O2-catalyzed defluorination of perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) by oxidized vanadium carbide MXene nanosheets” Journal of Materials Chemistry A,, 2023, 11, 16803-16814, DOI:
  3. Jessica M. Steigerwald, Shawnie Peng and Jessica R. Ray, “Novel perfluorooctanesulfonate-imprinted polymer immobilized on spent coffee grounds biochar for selective removal of perfluoroalkyl acids in synthetic wastewater” Environmental Science & Technology Engineering, 2023, 3, 4, 520-532, DOI:
  4. Katya Cherukumilli, Max Steiner and Jessica R. Ray, “Effective fluoride Removal using granular bauxite filter media as an affordable and sustainable alternative to activated alumina” Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, 2021,
  5. Jessica M. Steigerwald and Jessica R. Ray, “Adsorption behavior of perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) onto activated spent coffee grounds in synthetic wastewater effluent” Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters, 2021, 2, 100025-100032,
  6. Fanny Okaikue-Woodi, Katya Cherukumilli and Jessica R. Ray , “A critical review of contaminant removal by conventional and emerging media for urban stormwater treatment” Water Research, 2020 , 187, 116434-116455,
  7. Jessica R. Ray, Xuanhao Wu, Chelsea W. Neil, Haesung Jung, Zhichao Li and Young-shin Jun, “Redox Chemistry of CeO2 Nanoparticles in Aquatic Systems Containing Cr(VI)(aq) and Fe2+ Ions,” Environmental Science: Nano,2019, 6, 2269-2280.
  8. Jessica R. Ray, Itamar A. Shabtai, Marc Teixidó, Yael G. Mishael, and David L. Sedlak, “Polymer-Clay Composite Geomedia for Sorptive Removal of Trace Organic Compounds and Metals in Urban Stormwater,” Water Research, 2019, 157, 454-62.
  9. Jessica R. Ray, Whitney Wong, and Young-Shin Jun, “Antiscaling Efficiency of CaCO3 and CaSO4 on Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)-modified Reverse Osmosis Membranes in the Presence of Humic Acid: Interplay of Membrane Surface Properties and Water Chemistry,” Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 2017, 19 (7), 5647-5657.
  10. Jessica R. Ray,† Sirimuvva Tadepalli,† Saide Z. Nergiz, Keng-Ku Liu, Le You, Yinjie Tang, Srikanth Singamaneni, and Young-Shin Jun, “Hydrophilic, Bactericidal Nanoheater-Enabled Reverse Osmosis Membranes to Improve Fouling Resistance,” ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2015, 7 (21), 11117-11126.
  11. Xuyang Liu,† Jessica R. Ray,† Chelsea W. Neil,† Qingyun Li, and Young-Shin Jun, “Enhanced Colloidal Stability of CeO2 Nanoparticles by Ferrous Ions: Adsorption, Redox Reaction, and Surface Precipitation,” Environmental Science & Technology, 2015, 49 (9), 5476-5483.
  12. Jessica R. Ray, Wei Wan, Benjamin Gilbert, and Young-Shin Jun, “Effects of Formation Conditions on the Physicochemical Properties, Aggregation, and Phase Transformation of Iron Oxide Nanoparticles,” Langmuir, 2013, 29 (4), 1069-1076.
  13. Jessica R. Ray, Byeongdu Lee, Jonas Baltrusaitis, and Young-Shin Jun, “Formation of Iron(III) Hydroxides on Polyaspartate- and Alginate-Coated SiO2: Effects of Substrate Hydrophilicity and Functional Groups at the Surface,” Environmental Science & Technology, 2012, 46 (24), 13167-13175.

Honors & awards

  • Civil and Environmental Engineering Faculty Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award, 2021
  • College of Engineering Rogel Faculty Support Award, 2020
  • Chemical & Engineering News Class of 2020 Talented 12, 2020
  • Royalty Research Fund: University of Washington, 2019
  • Miller Institute for Basic Research Postdoctoral Fellowship: University of California Berkeley, 2015
  • EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Fellowship: Environmental Protection Agency, 2012
  • GK-12 Fellowship: National Science Foundation, 2009
  • American Chemical Society
  • Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professors
  • National Society of Black Engineers
  • National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers
  • Society of Women Engineers