2012 Student-Faculty Fellows Program Report: Valparaiso University
The Dynamics of Nutrient Exchange and Reduction of Nutrient Loading in Aquatic Ecosystems
Mentor: Professor Jonathan Schoer
Students: Kelly Belisle, Tim Brown, Adam Dickey, Laura Mattson, Caitlin Soley
Our group of five students traveled to Hangzhou, China to work with five Chinese graduate students from Zhejiang University for a three week period on three different environmental projects focused upon studying organic contaminant removal using black carbon, the impact of temperature on phosphorus dynamics in aquatic systems, and looking at the conversion of fly ash, a waste material, to zeolites, which are useful compounds for removing pollutants from water. We anticipate that a significant research publication, co-authored with our Chinese counterparts, will come from each of these research projects.
My work in China built upon related research I had already been engaged in studying while in the United States, but the opportunity to work closely with Chinese graduate students was a remarkable and eye-opening experience. I was allowed to run my own tests and my work was incorporated into the broader study. The focus of my work was upon the possible utilization of black carbon to absorb both organic and inorganic environmental contaminants.
My research experience in China was quite extraordinary and provided me the opportunity to work directly with Chinese graduate students. Their English language skills were quite good, and any communication problems were also alleviated by our utilization of a Chinese-English translator program offered by Zhejiang University. The lab we worked in at the university was solid and we shared one with another our views about technical and other issues. My research was a study to discover a plausible and economical way to convert fly ash, a hazardous byproduct of coal burning, into zeolites, which are useful because of their potential to clean wastewater.
My research this summer affirmed to me the ability individuals have to work with those from other countries to achieve specific objectives despite language and cultural differences. My research, undertaken with a Chinese graduate student, focused upon efforts to detect phosphorous and manganese in soils and then determine the effects of temperature change on the transfer of these chemicals between the soil and water. My study revolved around the release of phosphorous from sediment from six different subtropical wetlands. I found that the amount of phosphorous in the water depended upon the sediment in which it was found, but our efforts to determine what the impact of five degree temperature changes would be on the release of phosphorous into water from phosphorous-containing sediment was inconclusive.
My research, conducted with two other Valparaiso students and two graduate students from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, centered upon examining the ability of black carbon to absorb nonylphenol from soil deposits. Although our research techniques are similar, I was struck by the application oriented and practical approach of our Chinese colleagues to research problems. They seek to discover a specific problem and then try to find an inexpensive resolution to the problem. I have heard about “green chemistry and science”, but I got a first-hand opportunity to participate in this in Hangzhou.
Although the research of our group in China was of short duration, we were able to actively participate in an ongoing research program which focused upon the study of the ability of black carbon to absorb nonylphenol. My research was of a collaborative nature, but also involved independent research by me in a Chinese laboratory. We discovered that black carbon is excellent at absorbing both organic and inorganic environmental contaminants and that it can be added to soil as biochar (a charcoal-like substance).