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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.