John Naviaux wants to make energy more sustainable and more affordable. A double major in economics and earth and environmental sciences, he has been pursuing research on microbial fuel cells and ways to optimize the various electrical properties of microbes in biofilms as a potential energy source.

“Our energy needs are only going to continue to grow,” he says. “This work is fascinating to me because it provides a novel approach to meeting this demand in the future.”

As a senior at UCI, he was one of only a handful of non-physics majors to be invited to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) to study particle physics in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The experience was life changing,” he says. “I was surrounded by incredibly intelligent people and had the chance to participate in cutting-edge research. I realized then how much I loved being in a research-oriented environment.”

A double honors student, Naviaux’s senior thesis focused on the emission benefits of Orange County Transportation Authority busses. He found that, after taking into account bus ridership per mile, percentage of total miles carrying passengers, and the average number of passengers per car, busses need to carry a minimum of seven passengers at a time to produce fewer emissions per person than cars.

“OCTA averages more passengers than this, but the emissions benefits are minimal,” he says.

He received funding for his research from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

Naviaux is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a past recipient of the Sanli Pastore & Hill, Inc. Excellence in Economics Writing Award. He is being recognized this year with the George R. and Cathleen Hill Undergraduate Award for Excellence in Economics and the Chancellor’s Award of Distinction.

After graduating in June, he plans to continue working in the UCI microbial fuel cell lab while he applies for graduate programs in environmental science. Eventually he hopes to combine the experience with his background in economics to start his own company pursuing research on unique strategies for sustainable energy.

-Heather Wuebker, Social Sciences Communications

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