December 7, 2007

Getting her Hands Dirty

Lindsey Brough ’08 writes about the first project in the ‘Student-Mentor Research Award Program’

Civil engineering major Lindsey Brough ’08 (Durham, Maine) is the lead researcher for the new “Student-Mentor Research Award Program,” sponsored by the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association (PWEA). Its purpose is to bring municipal officials, professional engineers, wastewater operators, and academics together to work on environmental research. Her adviser is Arthur Kney, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. The following article about the project was written by Brough and published in the fall edition of PWEA’s Keystone Water Quality Manager magazine.

My research project, entitled “Monitoring the Nitrogen Cycle in Biosolids Under Various Environmental Conditions,” is the demonstration project for PWEA’s “Student-Mentor Research Award Program” with the aim to bring together academia, industry, and a professional organization. To continue with this concept, I am working with Lafayette College, the Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority and Vermitech to perform my research. All participants have supported my research both financially and personally—offering me guidance and advice whenever I have needed their input.

The planning for my research project began this past spring and continued into the beginning of this summer. My first order of business was to create a project with significance to all involved parties. My particular project was chosen because the nitrogen cycle plays an important role in biosolids’ value and quality for land application, compost, etc. and thus it is of interest to investigate how environmental factors influence the rates of nitrogen transformations in the biosolids.

After my research project was developed, I worked with all participants in the program to develop a research plan, including specific aims, significance of the research and research design and methods. At the conclusion of the writing and brainstorming process, I had developed four objectives: to track the nitrogen cycle in biosolids; to understand which environmental condition would a) slow down, and b) speed up the rates of nitrogen transformations in the nitrogen cycle; to determine which environmental conditions increase the concentrations of each form of nitrogen; and to suggest which environmental condition would promote the greatest value of biosolids for land application.

To meet these objectives, I collected seven bins of biosolids from the filter press at the Nazareth Wastewater Treatment Plant (Maybe I will be a future member of the Sludge Shoveler’s Society!). Each bin was maintained at a different condition: control, with Vermitech’s worms, high temperature, low temperature, high pH, low pH, and anaerobic.

Using sampling methods and a sampling schedule that we developed specifically for my research, I have spent four weeks monitoring the biosolids. The monitoring parameters include: temperature, pH, conductivity, solids and moisture content, TKN concentrations, and anion concentrations (including nitrate, nitrite, bromide, chloride, fluoride, phosphate, and sulfate).

Currently, I am finishing my first four-week test period and compiling my data to analyze the results. I am also generating a list of useful notes-to-self for the future: 1) Remember to bring a tarp to put in the trunk of your mom’s VW beetle when you are picking up biosolids from the wastewater treatment plant, 2) Remember to keep the muffle oven in a well-ventilated area, or your lab will fill with smoke from the burning organics, 3) Remember that if people do not visit your lab, it is not because they do not like you, it is probably because your lab smells like biosolids.

Furthermore, I have already learned how much effort has to go into a project, prior to even initiating the program and beginning to see results. In the next issue of Keystone I will discuss my findings based on the data collected.

  • Lindsey Brough ’08 Leads First Project of Student-Mentor Research Program
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Undergraduate Research

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