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Marquis Scholar Andrew Baker ’06 (Seattle, Wash.) gave a presentation last week on his research to remove arsenic from drinking water at the First International Congress on Science and Technology in Ecuador.

His mentor Arthur Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, accompanied Baker at the conference and leding a workshop on endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Baker is hoping that his research at Lafayette and in New Mexico are advanced enough to allow him to bypass graduate school and begin doctoral work after graduation. He is pursuing two degrees: B.S. civil engineering and an A.B. with majors in Spanish and international studies.

Kney considers Baker’s work worthy of the graduate level. They have collaborated as part of 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.

“Andy started working with me on this project through a design class and the student chapter of the Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (SEES) last year, and he fell in love with it,” Kney says. “He proved his value many times over throughout the past years. Because of the energy he put into this, it’s certainly going to open many doors that other students might not see.”

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 grants in less than two years 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.

Their project involved perfecting an absorbent material that removes arsenic from groundwater.

“A few years ago, we identified this absorbent material, and we’ve developed that further,” Kney says. “Andy played a tremendous role to bring the research to where it is today.”

Baker’s responsibilities included spending numerous hours in the lab conducting experiments with the material and characterizing its properties.

“We tried to evaluate, depending on the components of the drinking water – its pH and other ions it may have – how that will affect the capacity of the material, how much arsenic it can absorb,” explains Baker, president of SEES.

Not only has the work broken new ground in devising an optimal method for removing arsenic from groundwater, it is extremely timely.

“The regulations for arsenic that are in place now are 50 micrograms (mcgs) per liter, but back in 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated new regulations that the allowable amount of arsenic in water be dropped from 50 to 10 mcgs per liter and that takes place Jan. 1,” Kney says. “So anyone who has arsenic in their water, which is most of the Midwest, much of New Jersey, and Vermont, is going to have to consider technologies to remove arsenic. The issue becomes finding the cheapest technology that has the least impact on the environment. There are a whole host of considerations when you’re working with a potential material, such as if you can reuse it, what chemicals are involved, and what you do with the material when it’s filled up.”

Baker does not foresee the material he helped refine being ready for industry by the time the new regulations take effect due to the lengthy and expensive nature of a pilot test. However, the work he has done with the material and the system in which it would be used have been nationally recognized.

Baker and other SEES team members, who collaborated on an arsenic-removal project, won first place at a competition held at the American Water Works Association Conference. They received a second-place award in April for their arsenic-removal system in an environmental design contest sponsored by WERC: A Consortium for Environmental and Technology Development.

Based on that award, the group was offered the chance to submit a proposal describing how it would improve its treatment process. The proposal was accepted, and Baker conducted research at New Mexico State University to improve that removal system. The project also received a grant from the EPA to test the material to show its effectiveness in a small-scale situation.

Baker is continuing his work in a yearlong honors thesis.

“The thesis won’t be looking at any specific material but at developing the methods we’ve used and making them into something we can package,” he says. “It would be a method that a water treatment facility would apply so that they could, on a relatively reliable timetable, go from looking at three different materials that might work to being able to build their plant’s systems. Right now, the process is that you run small-scale lab tests. Then, you run a larger and time- consuming pilot test that would treat real water, which is slightly scaled down from how the system would actually be built, but that can take tens of thousands of dollars and a couple of months to complete.”

Baker’s thesis work, independent studies, and research have given him the freedom to pursue interests outside his majors.

“Environmental engineering is really what I’m interested in doing, so all of this work has given me the opportunity to learn the sorts of things it would offer me,” he explains.

Baker says Lafayette’s size has enabled him to take on many independent projects, noting that he doesn’t have to compete with graduate student for funding.

While he could pursue a number of career paths, Baker wants to continue to learn in an academic setting. He believes that his experiences will give him an edge when applying for graduate school or grants to fund future research.

Kney agrees and considers that one of the greatest benefits of the EXCEL Scholars program.

“Any student who works with EXCEL is really put into many situations he would not get exposed to in class,” he says. “It really prepares students well if they go on to graduate school.”

Baker received the Russell C. Brinker Prize in Civil Engineering at last spring’s Honors Convocation. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most respected undergraduate honors organization, as well as Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, and Sigma Delta Pi, the Spanish honor society. He is vice president of Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection, a board member of the Outdoors Club, and Lafayette’s recycling liaison. He is a graduate of James A. Garfield High School.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Baker receive a special academic scholarship and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded course abroad or in the United States during January’s interim session between semesters or the summer break. Marquis Scholars also participate in mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty and cultural activities in major cities and on campus.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.


Andy Baker ’06 (left) researched the removal of arsenic from groundwater as an EXCEL Scholar working with Arthur Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Categorized in: Academic News