University of Vermont

UG Engineering Students Do Summer Research

Author: Dawn Marie Densmore
Phone: Array Fax: 802-656-8802

Looking through microscopes, spending time in laboratories and in the field is where seven engineering students spent their time this summer. Richard Barrett, a 1966 UVM graduate, successful entrepreneur and founder of the Barrett Foundation, provides funds each year for summer undergraduate research opportunities within the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS).

Now in its fifth year, each student project approved fits within a general research area of a specific engineering faculty advisor. Matching funds from faculty support additional students, creating seven research projects in 2010. Five students explain their research projects in video footage below:

Tuff, as a Rock

Jessica Buckley (Advisor: Doug Porter)

Samples of tuff, a type of rock formed by ash fall from volcanic eruptions that occurred 1.2 and 1.6 years ago, were taken from the Bandelier National Monument located in the Pajarito Plato in New Mexico for this project. This area has been identified as one of our nation's national treasures within the National Treasurers Program. This program aims to preserve chambers that were excavated by Native Americans between the 13th and 16th centuries known as ‘cavates'. The samples collected contained differing weathering states of the tuff.

Porter's research focuses on determining strategies to preserve the ‘cavates' from structural failure due to erosion. Buckley's research is focused on determining the permeability and porosity of the samples and identifying biological growth on the weathering rind of the tuff, examining petrography and quartz content. With this information Buckley can link the weathering states with the characteristics determined by the experimental methods. With this information researchers will be able to determine preservation strategies that might include more testing, and methods to preserve the ‘cavates' for future generations.

"Characterizing a rock is an engaging learning experience, " says Buckley, "It's exciting to learn new methodologies that use a variety of testing techniques and equipment."

Teaching a Computer Brain to See Groundwater from the Air

David Grover (Advisor: Dr. Donna Rizzo)

Grover will work to estimate depth to groundwater using remotely sensed data and processing information with different algorithms, mostly artificial neural networks and support vector machines. Currently there are challenges in estimating groundwater without the use of soil properties. His research will help to determine the location of water of groundwater and provide information for the implementation of water contamination strategies.

"I'm really excited to be working on this project, " says Grover. "This is an incredible chance to explore a number of new approaches to data processing."

This research is being done in conjunction with Applied Research Associates (ARA), and Lance Besaw, a UVM Ph.D. 2010 who will act as a supervisor from ARA on the project.

An Industrial Digester to Create Energy from Industrial Waste in Middlebury

Jason McCune-Sanders (Faculty Advisor: Donna Rizzo)

McCune-Sanders' research project will determine the feasibility of building a Digester that can create energy from organic waste products. Currently industrial waste from companies such as Cabot Cheese Creamery, Otter Creek Brewery, Green Mountain Beverage goes directly to the Middlebury sewage treatment plant. A Digester could use the waste to produce energy as well as reduce the volume of solid waste. A digester would separate liquids from solids: channeling liquids to the waste treatment plant and separating solids for composting, etc.

Deborah Sachs from the Community Climate Action and Fuss and O'Neill Engineering in Middlebury serves as a resource for the project.

Analyzing the Effect of Temperature and Humidity on Aerosols Particle Size Distribution

Tamara Stone (Advisor: Dr. Britt Holmén) Research Project graduate student, Terry Barrett

Currently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has standards to measure particulate matter of 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) and particular matter of 2.5 micro meters in diameter (PM2.5). Respiration problems are caused by nano-scale particulates far smaller than micrometers and these are the ones that travel deeper into the lungs causing more severe health issues. Currently there is no sufficient standard to measure these nano-scale particulates. The smaller particles are underestimated in the current mass based standards. The current instruments used to quantify these smaller particles are very expensive and cannot be used in the field. Stone's research will analyze particle growth with humidity and its effect on measurement techniques. This information will enable the creation of lighter, smaller, low cost instruments that can be used in the field.

"It's awesome to be involved with independent research that can create new standards for better air quality control, " says Tamara, "Knowing that this research could help to improve the quality of environmental and public health, is just amazing."

Impact of Motility on Bacterial Adhesion

Jiarui David Zhang (Advisor: Dr. Jane Hill)

The overall goal of Zhang's research is to directly assess the magnitude of motility and ionic solution contribution to cell adhesion. Biofilms are bacteria that clump together and contaminate water, reduce efficiency of heat transport, and create have harmful effects on agriculture and health.

His research will help to determine how to protect small and large-scale public water supplies and set pumping conditions for irrigation systems impacted by reclaimed water or manures.

Zhang will use a Microfluidic Chamber and a TIRAF microscope to perform experiments with E.Coli K12 vs. P.aenginosa. Matlab and ImageJ will be used to process data and to determine results. For more on this research visit the Hill Lab website.

Can Landscape Analysis Determine Sediment Production on Rural Roads?

Mike Ingram (Advisor: Dr. Beverley Wemple)

Ingram is evaluating "Class 4 Roads" which are public dirt roads in the White River watershed area, northwest of White River Junction to analyze the relationship of the landscape and the roads and sediment production.

"Since coming to UVM, erosion has become a key interest of mine, " said Mike. "There is a relationship between roads and river channel morphology. Roads can contribute sediment to rivers which then impairs their natural flow. Subsequently, water that is more turbid impairs the quality of life for salmon, and other fish."

Mike's research in the field will use GPS coordinates of culverts and water bars, man-made structures that divert water into streams. Sediment that travels from roads and culverts creates sediment plumes of murky water. His goal is to identify the roads that contribute the most damage to the river network. Once identified Mike can use his research data for other towns in Vermont to identify similar problem areas. The White River Partnership has identified roads in this area as being problematic. From the identification of these areas, Mike will examine the roadway itself, its slope, vegetation cover, soil properties, bedrock. The relationship between these parameters and the roads will help to prevent further damage to Vermont rivers.

For more information on the White River Watershed click here.

Click to see a map of the White River watershed.

Identifying Aquatic Worm Taxa Using Artificial Intelligence to Determine Health and Water Quality in Montana and Vermont Streams

Stephanie Wyman (Advisors: Dr. Lori Stevens and Donna Rizzo) Research Project Ph.D. student, Nikos Fytilis

Wyman's research project uses artificial neural networks to correlate the type of worm taxa to water quality.

Whirling disease is caused by Myxobolus cerebralis, a fish parasite that damages neurological function in trout and salmon, causing fish to swim in cork screw patterns. Infected fish, unable to eat, become vulnerable to attack by predators and cannot reproduce; most die from starvation. This disease, introduced from Eurasia in the 1950s, has been found in over 50% of the United States. Allison Murphy's, (2009 Barrett scholar) research focused on the disease itself, to determine the type of taxa present in the water.

Wyman will travel with Nikolaos Fytilis, a Ph.D. environmental engineering student, to Montana to collect samples of the worm (Tubifex tubifex), the intermediate host of this parasite, which lives in communities with 3-4 other types of worms in stream sediments. By collecting worms from sites, links will be determined between the worms and the quality of the water in the stream. Wyman and Fytilis will create an artificial neural network program that will include and link different types of worm taxa to actual water quality of streams. This information may then be included with other Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' stream health indicators to help assess if the worms present in Vermont streams are correlated with the biological health of specific streams and rivers.

For information on the research done on Whirling Disease in Vermont click here.

For more information on the Batten River, from Vermont and New York click here

For more information contact:
Donna Rizzo, Ph.D.
University of Vermont
Phone: (802)-656-1495
Fax Number: 802-656-8446