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Civil engineering major writes about his EXCEL project looking at a cost-effective method of removing the contaminant from groundwater

Civil engineering major Jeffrey Shoemaker ’10 (Schnecksville, Pa.) is working on an EXCEL project with Arthur Kney, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Steven Mylon, assistant professor of chemistry, to explore cost-effective methods for removing the contaminant perchlorate from groundwater. The project, which has been ongoing for several years, is supported by a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

This project seeks to redress the significant health risk posed by the release of the harmful chemical perchlorate by investigating a treatment process which not only destroys the contaminant but does so without producing any unsafe or toxic byproducts. Until recently, the uncontrolled release and disposal of perchlorate has caused contamination in more than half the states across the country, from California to Massachusetts.

My research is exploring the feasibility of zero valent iron nanoparticles (nZVI) in conjunction with ion exchange resins as a possible treatment for contaminated water. The ion exchange resins are first used to cull perchlorate from polluted water sources, and then a dosage of nZVI renders the chemical innocuous, reducing it to an equivalent amount of chloride. When used separately, both methods have successfully destroyed perchlorate. However, if the direct interface of the two procedures succeeds, the benefits would include a more sustainable treatment procedure that could work faster and produce less chemical waste. We are also interested in determining the lifetime of the treatment, specifically what effect repeated cycles have on the efficiency of the remediation.

I work extensively with professors Kney and Mylon. Although water quality is a key civil engineering concern, the research is chock full of chemistry concepts and procedures, and I have gained much from their combined expertise. I typically work with both professors to create a procedure, run experiments in the lab, and compile the results, which we then collectively analyze. We also brainstorm ideas to improve the outcome of future testing.

I have access to a wide array of advanced instruments in the lab that are on par with most graduate facilities, such as a machine that can detect minute concentrations of dissolved contaminants. The work can be challenging, with good days and bad days, successes and failures. The research requires a great deal of problem solving, and I have really learned the value of patience and persistence from my experiences in the laboratory.

Chiefly, this research has exposed me to the expectations of a grad student’s typical work and lifestyle, and I know this experience will be invaluable to my professional development. This summer, I have had the opportunity to travel and work on this project under the supervision of Dongye Zhao, associate professor of civil engineering at Auburn University, which has been a profound learning experience for me. I have worked closely with Byungryul An, an Auburn graduate student with years of experience in environmental remediation research, whose assistance has been invaluable to the project’s progress this past month.

Tackling a pressing national health problem such as this is also a rewarding endeavor, a way to make a positive impact on the world, and a chance to gain specialized knowledge in a field of my interest. After graduation, I plan to pursue advanced study of either structural or environmental engineering.

Categorized in: Academic News, Civil and Environmental Engineering
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