Undergraduates spend summer exploring world of CEGE research
Participating in research activities provides students the opportunity to build skills vital to their future as engineers while they collaborate with colleagues in a team environment. Three CEGE undergraduates acquired these and other benefits while they participated in the department's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.
Finn Haughn, Maycee Hurd and Shannon Thayer were named as the program's inaugural fellows during the summer 2020 academic session. The CEGE awards, modeled on a similar program sponsored by the College of Engineering, were awarded to students on the strength of their proposals' technical feasibility, clarity, and research contribution. Priority was given to students who had previously participated in research activities.
Allison MacKay, Professor and Chair, CEGE, emphasized that these research opportunities allowed students to engage their majors from a very different perspective. "Students explore very different problems in research than in classroom assignments and yet, students are able to experience that they can bring their knowledge from the classroom to work on problems that have not been explored," she said.
Hurd's research, conducted with Prof. MacKay and Presidential Graduate Fellow July Laszakovits, addressed treatment methods in drinking water sources heavily affected by harmful algal blooms (HABs). The team examined the practical application of a dosing technology to reduce the algal toxins. Traditionally, water treatment facilities add all of the oxidant treatment to the water in one dose. The MacKay group's approach is novel in that smaller doses of these oxidizing agents are added to water over a longer period of time.
The fellowship enabled Hurd to continue work she began with MacKay's lab in November of 2019. "We were able to produce a significant amount of data," she said of the ongoing project. Prof. MacKay, agreed, noting that some of Maycee's recent results contributed preliminary data to a proposal submission made this summer.
Finn Haughn, a fourth-year Buckeye from Liberty Center, Ohio, hails from a family of civil engineers. He combined his passion for working with materials and increasing sustainability during summer research with Assistant Professor Lisa Burris, a member of the department's structural and materials engineering group. He explored pervious concrete and its ability to filter contaminated water. "Throughout the summer, I collected data on the physical properties of the concrete I’d been mixing, such as compressive strength, density, and permeability," Finn explained. "This will hopefully allow me to establish relationships between design parameters and final properties that I can use for future designs."
Haughn excitedly discussed these newly-configured materials' potential to aid in the treatment of water contaminated with acid mine drainage and possibly restore the water to a pH level that can sustain wildlife. "This project is an amazing opportunity because the concrete I’m making is designed to clean contaminated water," he said.
This work also nurtured collaborations between Burris' Advanced Cementitious Materials Research Group and Assistant Prof. Ryan Winston's research group, which included graduate students Alec Grimm and Jake Bertemes. Prof. Burris praised Haughn and welcomed her colleague's assistance on the project. "Finn was instrumental in conducting this research," she stated. "With the help of Dr. Winston and his students, this became a really collaborative project, getting a holistic system view of the capabilities of pervious concrete and the power of collaborations."
Shannon Thayer's deep love of the outdoors and interest in the climate change movement led her to pursue environmental engineering and a summer research project with Prof. Linda Weavers' laboratory group. Working with senior PhD student William Fagan, Thayer researched per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often referred to as PFAS. Shannon noted that these contaminants have a myriad of harmful potential health effects associated with them. "The more I learned about this emerging class of contaminants and their prominence in our water, the more I wanted to work towards finding a viable solution to treat for them," she said.
Prof. Weavers was pleased with Shannon's research efforts and the other benefits the fellowship provided. "I was excited to be able to mentor a student with an undergraduate summer research fellowship," she stated. "(In addition to) studying ways to degrade PFAS compounds that have contaminated a number of source waters for drinking water systems, these opportunities allow our undergraduate students to more deeply explore how to tackle open-ended problem solving and advance our understanding of problems needing practical solutions."
MacKay believed these experiences really expand students' vision of the many possibilities of career directions after college. "Whatever future pathway – graduate school, consulting, industry, government – undergraduate research experiences with open-ended problems allow students to build key skills in time management, persistence in getting results, and initiative in self-education," she remarked.
CEGE's undergraduate fellows echoed MacKay and Weavers' assertions that these opportunities advance scholarship and stimulate future aspirations. "I had such a great experience working with Dr. Burris," Finn Haughn offered. "I learned more this summer than I have at any other internship or job." Finn will continue his work this fall as a part-time member of Burris' group.
For Maycee Hurr, the time spent in Dr. MacKay's lab cemented her future educational plans. She now plans to attend graduate school after finishing her current course of study at Ohio State. "A career goal of mine is to make clean drinking water more accessible to communities whose water sources have been compromised. Being a part of this project made me want to continue research activities," the fourth-year Buckeye from Barberton, Ohio explained.
Thayer, a fifth-year student from Wadsworth, Ohio, planned to apply to Ohio State's Environmental Science Graduate Program in the fall of 2020. She enthusiastically recommended the experience to other students considering taking part in research. "You will be welcomed into a community of learning and exploration," she told her peers. "Research activities are one-hundred percent worth taking the chance on."