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Headshot of Kara L. Nelson

Kara L. Nelson, Ph.D.

Dr. Nelson’s research focuses on the control of waterborne pathogens, including mechanisms of pathogen inactivation and new detection methods.


  • Associate Dean of Equity and Inclusion, College of Engineering
  • Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering


  • University of California Berkeley


Dr. Kara Nelson is a Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion in the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her B.A. degree in biophysics from U.C. Berkeley, her M.S.E. degree in environmental engineering from the University of Washington, and her Ph.D. in environmental engineering from U.C. Davis. Prof. Nelson’s research program addresses innovative strategies to improve the sustainability of urban water infrastructure, including technologies for potable and non-potable water reuse, nutrient recovery, decentralized systems, intermittent water supply, household water treatment, and affordable sanitation. In particular, Dr. Nelson’s research focuses on the control of waterborne pathogens, including mechanisms of pathogen inactivation and new detection methods. She has published over 80 articles in peer-reviewed journals. Prof. Nelson leads the Engineering Thrust at the Engineering Research Center for Reinventing our Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), and recently served on the expert panel advising the State of California on the feasibility of direct potable water reuse. Dr. Nelson was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) at a ceremony in the White House in 2004. This award is the nation’s highest honor for scientists in the early stages of their career. She currently conducts research in the United States, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Panama.

Relevant Publications:

Silverman, A. I., Sedlak, D. L., & Nelson, K. L. (2019). Simplified Process to Determine Rate Constants for Sunlight-Mediated Removal of Trace Organic and Microbial Contaminants in Unit Process Open-Water Treatment Wetlands. Environmental Engineering Science, 36(1), 43–59.

Kavvada, O., Nelson, K. L., & Horvath, A. (2018). Spatial optimization for decentralized non-potable water reuse. Environmental Research Letters, 13(6), 64001.

Hong, P.-Y., Julian, T., Pype, M.-L., Jiang, S., Nelson, K., Graham, D., … Manaia, C. (2018). Reusing Treated Wastewater: Consideration of the Safety Aspects Associated with Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and Antibiotic Resistance Genes. Water, 10(3), 244.

Reygadas, F., J.S. Gruber, L.Dreizler, K.L. Nelson, and I. Ray. (2018) “Measuring User Compliance and Cost Effectiveness of Safe Drinking Water Programs: A Cluster-Randomized Study of Household Ultraviolet Disinfection in Rural Mexico.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.98(3): 824–34. 

Bear, S. E., Nguyen, M. T., Jasper, J. T., Nygren, S., Nelson, K. L., & Sedlak, D. L. (2017). Removal of nutrients, trace organic contaminants, and bacterial indicator organisms in a demonstration-scale unit process open-water treatment wetland. Ecological Engineering, 109, 76–83.

Contact info:
(510) 643-5023

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