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By the time Paul Dimick ’05 (Quakertown, Pa.) completes his yearlong honors thesis on removing a harmful chemical from groundwater, he will have the experience and expertise of any graduate-level student.

He presented his research in November at the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers Student Conference in Austin, Texas.

A chemical engineering major, Dimick spent half of the summer working with master’s students at Auburn University in Alabama and the other half focused on complex, graduate-level experimentation. He is continuing his quest to find an economical, efficient, and environmentally sound method to remove a contaminant called perchlorate from water.

He explains that there already is a method to remove perchlorate, a byproduct of munitions development, from water using a device called an ion exchange resin. In fact, he worked with the professor who patented this device while at Auburn.

The problem with the device is that perchlorate builds up on its tiles and the solution used to clean them has corrosive properties. Dimick is determining which ion exchange resin will work best for the perchlorate based on the resin’s sorption and regenerative properties.

“What I am working on is developing a regeneration recipe — a solution — to pass over the ion exchange resin,” he says. “The regeneration has to be both efficient and economical. Also, I’m looking for a regenerate [solution] that is environmentally friendly.”

He is still working to perfect his ion exchange resin and has obtained results that prove a more environmentally friendly resin can be used.

Dimick is conducting the work under the guidance of Arthur D. Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Javad Tavakoli, associate professor and head of chemical engineering.

“Perchlorate has contaminated various groundwater sources in different parts of the United States and so having a method for removing the perchlorate in a relatively inexpensive and cost effective manner is critical,” Kney says. “Presently there is no ideal way to deal with perchlorate, so there’s a lot of research going into it.”

Kney regularly involves students in his research, coauthoring papers published in scientific journals and presented at academic conferences. He has played a leadership role in obtaining three recent grants from the National Science Foundation totaling more than $650,000. He also helped establish a monitoring program for Bushkill Creek that is carried out by student volunteers.

Dimick, Kney, and Tavakoli previously worked together on related research through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, which allows students to 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.

“Paul is doing Ph.D.-level work — he is absolutely amazing,” Tavakoli says. “He took charge of designing and running the processes and creating new ideas for the process. Honestly, if he has the time next year to complete the work, at a minimum, he could receive a master’s degree on this project. He has so much knowledge about this that I think he will be able to contribute and come up with new methods and knowledge about these things — I am seeing kind of a star being born.”

A recipient of the United Nations TOKTEN Award and a Fulbright Summer Scholarship, Tavakoli has presented his research in numerous publications and at conferences such as the World Water & Environmental Resources Congress, the World Congress of Chemical Engineering, and the National Science Foundation International Symposium and Technology Expo on Small Drinking Water and Wastewater Systems. He has served as a consultant for the Department of Environmental Protection and companies based in the U.S. and abroad.

Dimick, who considers himself an outdoorsman and is interested in the project on many levels, says the Environmental Protection Agency is about to set minimum requirements for the amount of perchlorate allowed in water. As a result, he and other scientists are engaged in a race of sorts to develop a better technology to remove the chemical.

If he continues investing as much energy into the problem as he did during his EXCEL experience, Dimick will be well on his way to developing that technology, Kney and Tavakoli agree.

“He’s extremely energetic, he was always working over the 36 and 1/4 hours a week he was paid for, he’s dedicated, and he wants to understand what’s going on,” Kney says. “The heart of any great student is not to just understand the work, it’s getting in and understanding the finer points of what the research is about.”

Although Dimick has not decided if he wants to continue this line of research in graduate school, he plans on attaining a doctorate and a professional engineering certificate. He says that whatever path he chooses to follow, the EXCEL project helped him decide to continue his education at the graduate level. It also gave him a sense of the type of research problems he will encounter in graduate school.

“Doing the research and actually getting most of it to work gave me a lot of confidence,” Dimick says. “You can see a problem, go after it, and find a solution. Sometimes it seems overwhelming to think about how to approach a topic, but I’m confident that I could pick up any topic, learn about it, and do something beneficial through my research.”

Dimick is a peer tutor, a member of the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and its webmaster, and helps students as a member of the Calculus Calvary. He studied in Brussels during spring 2003. He graduated from Quakertown Community Senior High School.

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 last year’s annual conference.

Categorized in: Academic News