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.

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.

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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.
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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.