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Students in Lafayette’s new Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (SEES) have earned a second major honor, winning a research competition hosted May 3-5 by the PA-American Water Works Association in Valley Forge, Pa.

The SEES research project is a technology and design for treating arsenic in drinking water for rural, isolated communities. Among 33 projects submitted for entry in the contest, six were chosen to compete; four of the six were undertaken by graduate students.

Through the victory, SEES advances to the national competition at AWWA’s 124th annual conference and expositionJune 12-16 in San Francisco. The Lafayette students chose chemical engineering major Paul Dimick ’05 (Quakertown, Pa.) to present their work.

In another extraordinary accomplishment within a field that included graduate students from strong environmental engineering programs, SEES finished second in the 2005 WERC International Environmental Engineering Design Contest hosted April 3-7 by New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M.

Ten other institutions competed in the arsenic treatment section, the largest of eight in the competition, which included teams from the United States, Canada, and China. Lafayette was bested only by the Clemson University team, which consisted mostly of graduate students.

“To place second in such a contest with a team of all undergraduates is exceptional,” says team adviser Art Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It provides proof that our program at Lafayette is just as good if not better than those of universities with Ph.D. and master engineering programs.”

The ten students in SEES represent eight different academic departments at the College. Students founded the group this school year to promote interdisciplinary collaborative research on environmental issues. They obtained the financial backing needed to participate in the international contest on their own.

In its first year, SEES has proven the caliber of Lafayette students to the worldwide environmental engineering design community, and it continues to expand the breadth of its involvement in environmental research. In addition to the AWWA and WERC events, SEES members have presented their findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and a regional meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (hosted by Lafayette), and will do so at the national meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers as well as the Joint Meeting of the 2nd International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry and the 9th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Washington, D.C.

“The WERC contest and the SEES club provided a unique and irreplaceable opportunity for us to utilize classroom knowledge to solve a current major environmental problem using innovative technologies,” says Dimick, who will begin graduate studies at Lehigh University this fall. “This sort of research combined skills from throughout the college to provide a real-world experience unparalleled at the undergraduate level.”

The SEES team is advised by Kney, Samuel A. Morton, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Steve Mylon, assistant professor of chemistry, as well as Dimick. The group consists of Marquis Scholar Andy Baker ’06 (Seattle, Wash.), who is pursuing a B.S. in civil engineering and A.B. in Spanish and international studies; Marquis Scholar Jenna Cellini ’06 (New City, N.Y.), who is pursuing a B.S. in civil engineering and A.B. with a major in art; Amanda Eggleston ’06 (Lancaster, Pa.), a double major in A.B. engineering and art; Katie Herchenroder ’06 (Breezy Point, N.Y.), a mechanical engineering major; Melissa Korpela ’06 (Brattleboro, Vt.), who is pursuing a B.S. in civil engineering and A.B. with a major in international studies; Erik Person ’06 (Bridgewater, N.J.), a geology major; Katrin Przyuski ’05 (Glenmoore, Pa.), a chemistry major; Ebony Sterling ’05 (Freeport, N.Y.), an A.B. engineering major; and Lee Vanzler ’07 (Sharon, Mass.), a civil engineering major.

The technology developed by the SEES team could help communities meet new federal arsenic drinking water standards, to be implemented in 2006. It is effective in removing both types of naturally occurring arsenic.

“The students also priced out our process in a user-friendly way, such that if a person knows how many people the system has to serve and the concentration of arsenic in the water, they can quickly figure an approximate cost for the system,” says Kney. “In addition, they also provided a safety and health plan reviewed by Jeff Troxell, assistant director of public safety at Lafayette, and a plan to implement the system into a community reviewed by Diane Elliott (associate director for public service at Lafayette’s Meyner Center for the Study of State and Local Government).”

The technology is the culmination of three years of research conducted in the environmental engineering labs at Lafayette. The labs were developed through a $366,354 National Science Foundation grant and $123,131 in College funding. Students participated through an honors thesis, an interdisciplinary design course sponsored by the A.B. Engineering Program, and the College’s EXCEL Scholars program, which funds collaborative research with faculty for over 160 students annually. Enhancing this work is research at the Department of Energy National Laboratory at Brookhaven in Upton, N.Y.

Faculty from many different departments have provided input. Sharon Jones, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, for example, served as a reviewer for the team’s Economics and Policy Plan, while Alastair Noble, assistant professor of art, helped two students build a scaled model of the system.

The WERC contest, which began in 1991 to promote research on environmental issues, is backed by a consortium consisting of a number of New Mexico universities, as well as the National Laboratories at SandĂ­a and Los Alamos. This year, 33 institutions from across the United States, Canada, and China attended.

All teams gave four different presentations: written, oral, a bench-scale model, and a poster. Environmental professionals judged the entries.

“The design contest brings together industry, government, and academia in the search for novel and innovative environmental solutions,” says Abbas Ghassemi, WERC executive director. “The contest provides students with tremendous experience that will help them in pursuit of their careers.”

For more information on SEES, visit the group’s web site.

Categorized in: Academic News