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When Marquis Scholar Margaret Garcia ’07 (Stamford, Conn.) was a little girl, she would envision ways to cut back on environmental pollution. She remembers thinking about using dried leaves in some way to fuel cars to eliminate harmful emissions from gasoline.

A research project this summer allowed her to dabble in an area very close to her heart. With the help of Arthur Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Garcia worked on using magnets to treat water contaminated with chemical buildup.

“I’m interested in alternative treatments, things that are more environmentally friendly,” says Garcia, a civil engineering major. “I’ve always been a big fan of protecting the environment and anything that can improve upon the way we do things traditionally is interesting to me.”

Garcia and Kney worked together through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Last fall, Kney used a National Science Foundation grant to continue his groundbreaking research on magnetic water conditioning at Cranfield University in England. He has researched chemical-free water treatment with a number of Lafayette students and presented a paper coauthored with two of them at the First International Water Association Conference on Scaling and Corrosion in Water and Wastewater Systems, which Cranfield hosted.

“Usually the standard treatment is to use a variety of chemicals to remove the precipitate (buildup),” Garcia says. “It works, but it’s expensive and harmful to environment, so we worked on an alternative treatment.”

Garcia conducted numerous experiments. Her research involved creating a solution laden with calcium carbonate, which is prevalent in hard water, determining the exact amount of the chemicals by shooting light through it, placing the mixture between two magnetic forces, and then determining whether any of the chemicals have been removed.

“That was Margaret’s job, to identify whether we could figure out a way to measure if anything was happening on the surface of these particles due to magnetic treatment,” Kney says.

For years, the use of magnets and magnetic forces to draw out chemicals in water that adhere to piping walls when that water is heated has been considered controversial, Kney says. Results have been sporadic and hard to replicate.

Garcia’s own results mirrored those of experiments before her, but she was able to find some success in removing the chemicals from the water solution, she says.

“The learning was very much trial and error and I learned a lot of things from that – some things go wrong the first time and you have to figure it out.”

Although a typical student might become frustrated by repeatedly falling short on finding a successful result, Garcia never expressed frustration or wanted to take a break from the work, Kney says.

“Her biggest asset was being extremely dedicated, a great student who was able to take to the task with very little supervision and make it work,” he says.

One of his goals was for Garcia to gain respect for what research is about.

“I want her to better appreciate the problems we run into and as we go into different projects where we get some results that are easier to obtain, we will better understand the project,” Kney says.

That is absolutely certain, Garcia adds.

“Overall I definitely had a good experience and I learned what research is like, the nature of it,” she says. “Some days, you’ll see exciting results and the next weeks, you’ll not see any results. I’m able to just think about problems on my own and recognize that you’re going to have a lot of failure along the way before you actually find what you’re looking for.”

A graduate of Stamford High School, Garcia is a member of Engineers without Borders and Students for Social Justice. She also rows on the crew club.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars receive special financial aid and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded study-abroad course during January’s interim session between semesters. Marquis Scholars also participate in cultural activities in major cities and on campus, and mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News