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When senior May Chui wanted to conduct environmental research, she assembled seven fellow students to work on a significant, noncredit project. The team is meeting weekly this semester to help the United States Environmental Protection Agency develop an inexpensive method to remove arsenic from drinking water in New Mexico.

“There has always been a concrete canoe competition in the civil engineering department,” says Chui, a civil engineering major. “But my interest lies in the environmental field, so I talked to Professor (Art) Kney, and he got information about the International Environmental Design Contest.”

Sponsored by the Waste-Management Education and Research Consortium, the IEDC is held annually at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, N.M. The contest challenges student teams to provide solutions to real-world environmental problems that have been submitted by private industry and government agencies.

“This project is phenomenal,” says Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, who is advising the students along with Sharon Jones, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Chip Nataro, assistant professor of chemistry. “The students are tackling a ‘real world’ problem using state-of-the-art equipment. The research is good preparation for graduate school or a career. They are gaining exposure to things many undergraduates never experience.”

The students have tested between 50 and 75 materials to identify an ideal candidate for use in ion exchange, a process that extracts arsenic. They are conducting this research in Lafayette’s new integrated environmental research laboratory, funded in part by a $366,354 National Science Foundation grant awarded to the chemical engineering and civil and environmental engineering departments. They will present their findings April 6-10 at the 13th annual IEDC.

Group members include Jessica Molek, a senior chemical engineering major from Reedsville, Pa.; Nicole Joy, a junior A.B. engineering major from Windham, Maine; Christopher Harty, a junior mechanical engineering major from Kingston, Jamaica; Shawna Showalter, a junior chemical engineering major from Waynesboro, Pa.; Samantha Sweeton, a junior civil engineering major from Warwick, N.Y.; Cristin MacDonald, a sophomore civil engineering major from Glendora, N.J.; and Inku Subedi, a sophomore double majoring in psychology and anthropology & sociology from Kathmandu, Nepal.

Chui says that she is learning the technical details of treating water for arsenic. As project coordinator, she is also gaining organizational experience.

“I am incorporating everyone’s skills and expertise into the project,” she explains. “It is really exciting to work with people from different majors.”

“I think being aware of the world around you and environmental problems within it is important,” says Molek. “Arsenic contamination is a concern in countries like Bangladesh and is also a problem right here in the United States.”

A native of Hong Kong, Chui worked part-time in her homeland at a nature reserve. “I enjoyed my experience with the natural environment, so I decided to pursue civil engineering and focus on the environmental aspect,” she says.

“I love the civil engineering department,” Chui continues. “My professors are very friendly. There are so many opportunities for civil engineering students at Lafayette.”

Chui collaborated with David Brandes, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program. The duo used co-solvents to facilitate groundwater remediation. In EXCEL, students work closely with professors on research while earning a stipend.

Chui is president of Asian Cultural Association, treasurer of American Society of Civil Engineers, and a member of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society.

She is planning to attend graduate school for environmental engineering after graduation.

Categorized in: Academic News