All posts by tarakulkarni

My name is Tara Kulkarni and I am an Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Norwich University. In this role, I am finally living my dream of being a teacher and educator. I have always wanted to teach, ever since I remember, so I am especially excited about fulfilling this dream here at Norwich. I have a B.E. in Civil Engineering from the College of Engineering Pune (India), an M.S. from the University of Toledo in Ohio and a Ph.D. from Florida State University. To supplement all this education, over the last several years during and after graduation I have worked in government, consulting and academia in various capacities. Some of the areas that I worked in include industrial wastewater treatment, hazardous waste regulation, petroleum cleanup and remediation, sustainability reporting and so on. My research focuses on modeling for improved environmental risk assessments, which can ultimately result in effective and sustainable engineering solutions for complex environmental contamination challenges. Specifically, I am involved in Physiologically Based Toxicokinetic (PBTK) Modeling in which mathematical expressions are used to show the fate and transport of an environmental contaminant in the human body upon exposure. The model results can then be used to determine short and long-term adverse effects on the exposed population and come up with engineering and non-engineering strategies to address the contamination concerns. While I love my research and want as many of you to get involved in my work and projects as I can convince, I am first and foremost your teacher. I am here for you to help you understand things better and be better engineers. I will answer all your questions, the best I can and work harder on answering the ones that you stump me with! In my classes, I will emphasize having a global perspective on all your decision making processes and engineering designs and solutions. I will harp on sustainability and keep questioning whether the engineering solutions you come up with are environmentally, socially and financially viable and remain so for future generations. I will constantly be learning from you as well, so just as I hold you accountable, make sure you do the same for me. We are all privileged to be part of an outstanding institution, so follow the Norwich Honor code and be exemplary students, and I will try and be an exemplary teacher.

A teacher’s life

Yesterday, we celebrated our wonderful student researchers at the annual Student Scholarship Celebration. Out student research quality is definitely on the rise, and I enjoyed some excellent conversations with both the student researchers and my fellow faculty colleagues.


I am especially proud of Maria Trejo, who was designated a Weintz scholar for her proposal to do a 6-week project on building eco-machines and trying to determine whether they may be the “finishing” step we need at our wastewater treatment plants dealing with the nutrients issue.


As this was also the last day of classes, I had had an emotional roller coaster of a day with having to say goodbye to the first group of seniors, whom I’ve seen all the way through their four years, since we all started on opposite ends of the table way back in 2011. Then, this morning I saw this picture from yesterday’s event.


Along one side of me stands Anthony Belval, a graduating senior, one of the smartest and kindest students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching; and on the other stands Maria, a freshman civil engineering student, so eager, excited and ready to begin her journey of research and learning. This picture also seems to capture the essence of a teacher’s life. Just as we say the really hard to say goodbyes, knowing how much we will miss our seniors, a new wave of students is already in place, ready to seize the day and continue old projects, and innovate new solutions with their fresh ideas. No wonder, this life never has a dull moment. It is a constantly changing adventure and having the front seat in so many exciting journeys is an incredible experience in and of its own.

On trying so hard, it hurts…

The bottom line is that we did not make it into Phase 2 of EPA’s P3 design competition. We did not even get an honorable mention, even though a whole bunch of people were really complimentary of the concept of our three-tiered pervious concrete filtration system. On one level, the outcome is understandable. The weather delays led to an incompletely tested and validated project, so our results were not conclusive, and there is still a lot of work to be done. On the other hand, I believe our student team represented Norwich in the best possible way, and I couldn’t be any prouder of their presentation to the judges. Each student on the team, joined along at different times of the project cycle, and contributed in different ways, but they all spoke in one voice at the competition.


The good news is that we still have the support to keep working on the project, and have commitments from the town of Northfield, and ECHO to install our system on their properties during upcoming construction projects, so the Norwich P3 story goes on…

Vermont’s 2014 Infrastructure Report Card is here!

This afternoon, the Vermont section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the 2014 Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure. It is available at

Page-1-from-2014-ASCE-Report-CardI had the wonderful opportunity to work on the Municipal Drinking Water and Wastewater sections of the report. These categories earned a grade of C- and D respectively and reflect a wide gap in our state’s needs and the resources available (or lacking) to meet these needs.

The key note speakers at the event included Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Transportation – Sue Minter, and Commissioner David Mears of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. They made a strong case for the work that is currently underway to improve these grades, even as they prepared us for future trends and urged action from everyone.

I was most impressed that the leaders of these two very important state agencies talked a lot about integrated approaches and how each of their agencies communicated with the other to collaborate on projects that transcended silos and necessitated joint actions.


A radio interview on the Mark Johnson show

cspanI had a great time sharing all the excitement about our current research projects on the Mark Johnson show last week. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in my first experience with a radio interview, so our amazing Assistant Director of Communications Daphne Larkin helped calm all my anxieties. She drove me there and sat through the interview.

Mark Johnson was such a gracious host. He put me right at ease and I had a great time talking about Norwich, all things research, and our exciting P3 grant work on building pervious concrete filters, as well as a little on the VT EPSCoR grant work on green infrastructure solutions for stormwater management.

The interview is at

We’re in! USEPA’s P3 Student Design Competition for Sustainability

It has gone from disbelief to a feeling of being overwhelmed to a sure spike in excitement as the fall semester is up and running and our official “award” document is now in hand. We made it! We’ve made it through Phase I of the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability for the year 2015.

It started off with a simple conversation with Susan Limberg on her idea of working on researching “pervious concrete filters” for her Honors thesis work and possibly building something along these lines for her senior Capstone project, and her yearning to want to do something to improve water sustainability in under developed and developing areas of the world. I heard her words, saw the light in her eyes, and with everything I think I know about Susan, knew that this would be the right research project to submit a P3 proposal for.

Since this submission requires a faculty PI, I was happy to write the proposal, and got started right away. We used some content from Susan’s summer research on pervious concrete with Dr. Ed Schmeckpeper, whose support and encouragement is a HUGE reason, why everything worked as well as it did. With Dr. Wendy Fuller willing to support the “social” aspects of our sustainability mission and Dr. Najiba Benabes willing to come aboard as our “economics” advisor, a first draft of the proposal was ready.

Dr. Karen Andresen and Dr. Dave Westerman asked the most thoughtful and pertinent questions as always, which helped make the proposal that much stronger.  After many other requests for collaboration and permissions and such and amidst all the craziness of classes, exams, and grading, the draft was finalized.

I’m hoping many of our Norwich students regardless of majors and years will join in and help us get to Phase 2. In any case, the campus should be hearing a number of conversations on sustainability and we will reaching out to a whole bunch of K-12 kiddos in the area as well as girl scout troupes with the message of water sustainability, so stay tuned for more on this.

Presenting the 2013-14 VT EPSCoR pilot grant research

My summer student researcher Jennifer Drew joined me in presenting a poster with the results from our study entitled “Impacts of Phosphorus on Surface Waters from Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) in a Changing Climate”.

We were trying to look for any elevated phosphate levels in six major tributaries of the Dog River (Bull Run, Cox Brook, Felchner Brook, Stony Brook, Sunny Brook, and Union Brook) and determine whether OWTS such as septic systems in the vicinity were responsible for the elevated levels. The premise was that aging septic systems in high water table soaked soils due to increased precipitation events in a changing climate, will cause leach fields and other infiltration mechanisms to fail, and release phosphorus into the Dog River.

We collected and analyzed over 150 samples over five separate sampling events spanning fall, spring, and summer 2013-2014 and measured temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, chlorides, in addition to nitrites, nitrate, and phosphates. We also collected latitude and longitude readings to use in IMG_2739Geographical Information Systems (GIS) mapping.

The lowest phosphate concentration readings we found were in Sunny Brook.  This tributary had the potential for elevated phosphate readings (based on local geology and number of OWTS in the area), so the findings invalidated our hypothesis for the study area and period. We presented these findings in the recent VT EPSCoR annual meeting for all the Research on Adaptation to Climate Change (RACC) researchers.  A lot of sweat and tears went into completing the various activities we worked on for this research. Some highlights were:

1. The involvement of all 23 students from my fall 2013 Sanitary Engineering course in the fall sampling and analysis phase of the project.IMG_1426

2. The engagement of over 80  K-12 students through service-learning projects that promoted water use, conservation, quality, and treatment. For example, one student group worked with fourth and fifth grade teachers from Flynn Elementary school in Burlington, VT, and involved their students in an engineering design process for a rainwater harvesting system for their school. Through hands on survey data collection, area, and volume calculations, physical model building and demonstration, the fourth and fifth graders got a real taste of an engineering project. The undergraduate team completed their design calculations, design drawings and a cost estimate for submission to the school. Prapat_Kids_Flynn

3. I couldn’t have done everything that this summer handed me, without all the time and effort that Jennifer put in and out of the lab. She was in the field with me and learned all the analyses quickly and was independent in no time. She called and emailed towns and other contacts many many times to work on getting data on the septic and sewer systems in the area. She managed to find her way around in GIS and create maps with barely a primer, but most of all her structure and organization made it a pleasure to have her on my team and I can say that she definitely helped shaped this project at least as much as I did. IMG_2227


VSI – Teaching Teachers

Last week,  I had an incredible time interacting with K-8 teachers from across Vermont and sharing the science and engineering of “Energy”. I have been fortunate to serve as the “Engineering Instructor” at this Vermont Science Initiative (VSI)’s annual Science and Engineering Academy, the past two years. This week long workshop to help teachers make sense of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in the context of science and engineering is a valuable resource to us all and our kids in these classrooms.

We built water filters based on the USEPA model last year.IMG_1274

This year, we built Archimedes screws and a micro-hydro-generator as the engineering design challenge activities. I think everyone’s arms were sore with the “pumping” and clothes and shoes wet as the turbine turned, the voltmeter lit up, and gave us enough data to run through some calculations.


I learnt a great deal from my fellow instructors, Ben Luce of Lyndon State College (and Physics/Energy guru in general), all my wonderful colleagues (now friends really) at the VSI and newfound partners in the Vermont Energy Education Program (VEEP).

When pedagogy, science and engineering join hands, I think that is some powerful educational “energy”!

EWRI Congress 2014

I finally had an opportunity to attend my first Environmental Water Resources Institute (EWRI) Congress in Portland, OR. I presented a poster with Amanda Kubes from Florida State University on the differences in onsite wastewater treatment systems (such as septic systems in Leon County, Florida and Washington County, VT.

In addition to trying to sit in on every presentation on LID and GI type presentations, the highlight was of course being able to cheer on Susan Limberg, who pIMG_2362laced first in the technical student paper contest in the undergraduate category, and did a fantastic job presenting her research on pervious concrete from Summer 2013. 

Of course, we also enjoyed the city of roses, by visiting the Rose Garden, eating Portland’s amazing food, and finding pink flamingos at the Portland Zoo during the Congress’s Key Social Event.
Finally, the Sustainability tour through Portland’s many green projects had us walking on green roofs, gazing upon green walls, and enjoying many different rain gardens.