By Bryan Hay

A trio of Lafayette students researching how to recover phosphorus from wastewater recently had a graduate-level experience presenting at a national conference before faculty, Ph.D. students, and scientists from around the country.

Kaelyn Gormley ’22 (environmental science), John Rybnik ’23 (civil engineering), and Shane McCarthy ’22 (civil engineering) attended the American Chemical Society (ACS) conference in San Diego and delivered a podium presentation about their work, the only undergrad presenters at their particular symposium.

(L-R): Shane McCarthy ’22, Prof. Arthur Kney, Kaelyn Gormley ’22, and John Rybnik ’23 at American Chemical Society conference

(L-R): Shane McCarthy ’22, Prof. Arthur Kney, Kaelyn Gormley ’22, and John Rybnik ’23 at American Chemical Society conference

“We’re looking into removing phosphorus from wastewater sludge, using bacteria that would solubilize the phosphorus,” Gormley says, adding that the removed phosphorus, a dwindling natural resource, can be reused for fertilizer. 

“The goal with that is to divert nutrients that would end up in the landfill and also decrease dependence on mineable sources of phosphorus, because you want to create a more sustainable nutrient loop,” she says.

Discussing the research before a room full of academics and researchers from leading research institutions was a tad intimidating, but the opportunity to present at graduate level made the experience purely Lafayette, Rybnik says. 

“We were the only undergrads at that symposium,” he says, noting that, unlike a poster session where researchers are approached about their work, a podium presentation requires a full PowerPoint presentation and the ability to respond to questions on the spot in a full conference room.

“It was a little intimidating but a very worthwhile experience,” Rybnik says.

The Lafayette research was among about 60 submissions reviewed during the ACS conference, says student adviser Arthur Kney, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

“A number of the faculty were from major universities and well respected around the country. It was a fantastic experience for my students,” he notes. “Many in attendance pulled my students aside to ask questions and let them know they did a great job with their presentation.”  

Among them was Kney’s Ph.D. thesis adviser, Arup SenGupta, P.C. Rossin Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lehigh University, who was honored at the conference and interacted with Gormley, Rybnik, and McCarthy about their research and even presented them with a book of his poetry.

“He gave us the feeling that our presentation was part of a lineage that started with him and Prof. Kney,” Gormley says. “That really helped validate what we’re doing.”

Gormley, Rybnik, and McCarthy also presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, the Lehigh/Lafayette David and Lorraine Freed Undergraduate Research Symposium, and the 2022 Lehigh Valley Ecology and Evolution Symposium. 


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