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Thomas Voltz ’09 and Benjamin Emm ’10 spent their summer researching riverbank filtration systems at University of Applied Sciences in Dresden

As part of an eight-week research project, Thomas Voltz ’09 and Benjamin Emm ’10 traveled to University of Applied Sciences in Dresden, Germany, this summer to perform work on methods to produce high-quality drinking water.

The experience was made possible through an International Research Experiences for Students grant from the National Science Foundation received by Chittaranjan Ray, a professor at the University of Hawaii. The students were invited due to a collaboration between Ray and Art Kney, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Voltz, who graduated with a B.S. in civil engineering, and Emm (West Chester, Pa.), a civil engineering major, joined Ray and two other engineering students from the universities of Hawaii and Arizona to research riverbank filtration (RBF) systems.  RBF is a drinking water supply method that produces high-quality, raw drinking water through natural filtration processes that occur as surface river water flows into wells via the riverbed and riverbank soil.

“It is a very reliable, effective, and relatively low-cost method of acquiring drinking water,” says Voltz. “It has been used successfully in Europe for over 130 years and has the potential for widespread future implementation not only in the United States, but also in developing countries.”

The students used two different groundwater flow modeling software programs and worked with a Ph.D. student at the university developing a model to represent the function of RBF wells at a site in Duesseldorf, on the Rhine River in western Germany. They visited four different field sites located around Germany (including the site in Duesseldorf), where RBF had long been in use.

There the students were given tours of the facilities and told about the operation of the wells and the water treatment plants that prepare the water for distribution to customers. They also learned about the sorts of data that can be collected from observation wells located on site, and using a number of different measuring devices, they measured and recorded the data themselves.

“These experiences, in addition to having practical value, established the important connection between the actual collection of field data and its subsequent use in creating computer models,” says Emm.

The students also conducted a review of literature related to RBF in order to assess the impacts of climate change.  Voltz and Emmlooked into the impacts on RBF systems of floods and droughts, which are considered more likely to occur in the future due to changes in climate.

“One of the primary hopes of the program was to expose us as American students to an international collaboration, in the hopes that we will be better prepared for future collaborations with scientists and researchers from other countries, should we decide to pursue further education or careers in academia,” says Voltz.

Voltz is now pursuing a master’s degree at Penn State University, and after graduating from Lafayette, Emm plans to enter the work force and later obtain his master’s degree.

Categorized in: Academic News, German, Study Abroad
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