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As a child, Lindsay McCarthy ’06 (Peabody, Mass.) loved to take things apart to see how they worked and put them back together. As an A.B. engineering major, she is taking on larger issues that need practical solutions. McCarthy is conducting senior honors thesis research on methods to remove toxins from drinking water.

“Worldwide, 1.1 billion people lack the essential resource of safe, clean drinking water,” she says. “In other words, approximately one-sixth of the population does not have access to the basic human right of potable water.”

She is researching iron-enhanced activated alumina (IEAA) technology for treating arsenic-contaminated water and developing ways to improve its use in rural villages of developing countries.

Last year, McCarthy joined Lafayette’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a nonprofit organization that brings engineering expertise to developing communities. She helped create educational materials and workshops on water conservation and watershed management for a village in Yoro, Honduras, as part of an Engineering and Policy Design Project class. Her coursework inspired her to examine the needs of developing countries in greater depth.

Developed over the past two years by Arthur Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and a group of Lafayette students, the IEAA technology uses iron to convert arsenic III to arsenic V, which can be easily precipitated out of water.

“Arsenic poisoning through groundwater contamination has recently become one of the main environmental focuses in developing countries,” McCarthy says. “As an example, the effects of arsenic contamination have strongly been felt within the rural villages of Bangladesh. Currently in Bangladesh, 60 of the 64 districts have arsenic levels in groundwater above the World Health Organization’s recommended limit, and 50 of the 64 districts have levels above the maximum permissible limit of 50 micrograms per liter. Approximately 21 million people are currently exposed to arsenic contamination and upwards of 77 million people may be at risk. Over the past decade, numerous efforts have been made to solve this problem, but no widespread solution has been implemented.”

McCarthy says her thesis advisers, Kney and Sharon Jones, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, “are extremely well-versed on the subject matter.”

“They have helped me immensely, whether it’s meeting with me five times a day to answer all the questions I have or keeping me on track,” she says.

McCarthy also notes the benefits of research technology developed at Lafayette.

“I have all the resources that I need at my fingertips,” she says. “Lafayette is a college that not only has shown excellence in the classroom, but has also applied its knowledge to the community. The students and professors take a proactive approach to transferring their resources to their surroundings. Students gain real-world experience and simultaneously help the community.”

She hopes to work as an environmental engineer and focus on the issues of developing countries. She is especially impressed with the faculty’s interest in student success, both throughout the college years and after graduation.

McCarthy is co-chair of EWB’s education section and assistant membership coordinator of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. She is co-captain of the swim team and a Special Olympics volunteer; she and teammates help special-needs adults in neighboring Warren County, N.J., prepare for the games. She is a graduate of Beverly 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. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News