Sustainability is here.
Amy Hardberger sees herself as a translator. The George W. McCleskey Professor of Water Law and director of the Center for Water Law and Policy at Texas Tech University's School of Law holds a Juris Doctor, but the path to her legal career was built on science.
Before law school, Hardberger was a geologist with a bachelor's from Earlham College and a master's from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“I was a hydrogeologist before I decided to go to law school,” Hardberger explained. “I did that for a few years as an environmental consultant and then came to law school specifically to do water and environmental work.
“A lot of people think it's really weird there's a geologist lawyer but it all actually makes sense when you understand the type of law.”
Hardberger's background gives her the ability to take complex scientific ideas and explain them to just about any audience. It also made her an ideal candidate to join the team led by Gerardine (Gerri) Botte when it was time to apply to the National Science Foundation for an engineering research center.
“She just reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we're thinking about putting in this NSF grant application. What do you think? Is there a role for you here?'” Hardberger said. “Of course, at the time I knew precious little about what any of this was. I probably only know a fraction more now.
“It's a big project, so we discussed the role of what policy can be, understanding what the policy is on the ground and ultimately being able to propose best practices for any jurisdiction that wants to encourage this type of development.”
Hardberger jumped at the chance and now is a vital part of the research team for the Center for Advancing Sustainable and Distributed Fertilizer Production (CASFER). The center, which represents the largest grant in Texas Tech history, is looking to create a nitrogen circular economy by capturing nitrogen from wastewater and turning it into fertilizer.
“It's incredibly meaningful to be part of this grant with so much potential,” Hardberger said. “I'm always seeking new learning experiences so, for me, what I'm going to learn in the next five years is extremely exciting.
“I come from a farming family and sitting with farmers and really understanding what the numbers are – there's a realness to this project which is very enticing to me. It's not abstract.”
Working with a large team – the CASFER grant includes Texas Tech and four partner institutions – also has Hardberger excited for the future.
“The teams are always the best part – watching people work and think,” she said. “And I think the multidisciplinary effect is going to be extremely beneficial to my students. I'm now having to hire people to help me specifically with this and that's creating more opportunities for students, so that's also really fun to see.”
As with any good teammate, Hardberger understands her role. In the early stages, she's researching what laws apply to concentrated animal feeding operations, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of petroleum-based fertilizers, fertilizer storage and other pertinent regulations.
But she's also there to translate.
“There are people on the project – me and others – who are, I think, designated translators,” she said. “And any project like this needs that.”