Project Mentors: Prof. Lutgarde Raskin & Dr. Sarah Potgieter (postdoc)
Student Mentors: Kate Dowdell (PhD student), Matthew Vedrin (PhD student)
The College of Engineering’s Blue Sky – Remaking Water Infrastructure project is looking for students interested in gaining both field and lab based experiences in drinking water quality research. The project aims to study microbiomes across drinking water, human, and wastewater systems. The objective of this stage of research is to characterize the microbiomes and general water quality of drinking water in Ann Arbor. Students will have the opportunity to conduct drinking water sampling, in-field physical and chemical water analyses, in-lab microbiological processing and culturing work, and related drinking water quality data analyses. This is a great project for students interested in seeking a balance between practical and academic experiences as this research involves novel questions and methods but is also rooted in practical applications for drinking water management in small cities like Ann Arbor.
Project Advisors: Steve Skerlos (email@example.com) and Lut Raskin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Graduate Student Mentor: Tim Fairley (email@example.com)
The objective of this project is to research Anaerobic Membrane Bioreactor (AnMBR) configurations that can treat municipal wastewater at low cost while producing net energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. AnMBRs combine the benefits of anaerobic biological treatment (energy production) and membrane separation (excellent effluent quality). However, previous research has shown that changes to the design of AnMBR systems will be needed to achieve net energy recovery at municipal wastewater temperatures typically found in the Upper Midwest of the United States (yearly average of 15⁰C). This project’s focus will be on enhancing the activity of biofilms within AnMBR systems to achieve excellent environmental and economic sustainability characteristics. The student working on this project will gain experience with operating laboratory-scale AnMBRs and bioreactor monitoring methods. If interested, the student can also study the microbial community in the AnMBR using advanced molecular biology tools.
Project Advisors: Steve Skerlos (firstname.lastname@example.org), Lut Raskin (email@example.com), and Kuang Zhu (postdoc)
Graduate Student Mentor: Jeremy Nyitrai (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Anaerobic digestion (AD) fits well in the framework of sustainability since it treats organic waste while generating energy in the form of methane and producing a solid digestate with fertilizing properties. Nevertheless, hydrolysis is usually slow due to the presence of lignocellulosic materials in solid wastes. In previous work, the use of rumen content, which contains microbes able to efficiently digest plant material, led to an improvement in the hydrolysis rate and a high production of volatile fatty acids (VFA), which can be used later for the generation of methane, hydrogen or platform chemicals. The objective of this project is to enhance the rate of hydrolysis and the fermentation yield when solid organic wastes like sewage sludge, food waste or agricultural wastes are used in an anaerobic system. To accomplish this, a novel anaerobic dynamic membrane bioreactor has been designed based on the rumen as a model. The student working on this project will gain experience with operating laboratory-scale anaerobic digesters and bioreactor monitoring methods. If interested, the student can also study the microbial community in the reactor using advanced molecular biology tools.
Faculty Advisor: Lutgarde Raskin
Graduate Student Mentor: Dianna Kitt
Chain elongation is an emerging biotechnology that allows for the recovery of medium chain carboxylic acids (carboxylic acids with six to twelve carbon atoms) from various solid and liquid waste streams using an open culture microbial community 1–3 . The recovery of medium chain carboxylic acids (MCCAs) is of great interest because the recovered products can provide sustainably sourced platform chemicals for the production of valuable products such as animal feed additives, antimicrobials, lubricants, fragrances, and biofuel precursors 1–3 . In previous work in our laboratory, a novel anaerobic dynamic membrane bioreactor was developed to recover MCCAs from brewery waste and pretreated food waste. The scope of this project will include further optimization of MCCAs recovery by exploring alternative waste streams that could be utilized for recovery, optimizing the bioreactor design to develop a more robust and resilient system, integrating an MCCAs extraction unit to reduce product toxicity in the bioreactor, and applying next generation molecular biology and community analysis tools to better understand the microbial community responsible for MCCAs production. The student working on this project will have the opportunity to gain experience operating a laboratory scale bioreactor and performing chemical and microbial analysis techniques.
Faculty Advisor: Lutgarde Raskin (email@example.com)
Mentors: Pedro Puente (PhD student) and Caroline Van Steendam (Postdoctoral research fellow)
Organic food waste represents an underutilized energy and nutrient resource that is largely disposed of in landfills, where it notably contributes to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that about 38 million tons of food waste are discarded every year in the US (EPA, accessed 2018), of which, in 2014, ~95% was sent to landfills and incinerators. Instead of landfilling or incinerating food waste, this organic-rich stream can be anaerobically digested to produce and collect biogas, a renewable resource. Over the past decade, recovering source separated organics (SSO) at water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs) has gained a strong foothold around the world. Such WRRFs typically already anaerobically digest primary and secondary solids. By adding SSO food waste as a co-substrate, these WRRFs increase their biogas production and energy recovery. A key challenge is that the composition and characteristics of SSO food waste differ geographically and can change over time. This causes challenges and uncertainties for WRRFs accepting this material, operators, and engineers. Students involved in this project will perform a wide array of methods to sample and characterize different types of SSO food waste streams. The ultimate aim of this project is to provide WRRFs with analytical guidelines to sample and monitor their incoming SSO food waste and ensure optimal digester operation. A unique aspect of this opportunity entails the close collaboration with Carollo Engineers, Inc., an environmental engineering consulting firm, and several WRRFs.
Faculty Advisor: Evgueni Filipov (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Deployable structures that use the principles of origami could lead to applications in multiple scales and disciplines from biomedicine to space exploration. In architecture and civil engineering reconfigurable facades could adapt to the environment, and rapidly deployable shelters and bridges could be used for disaster relief efforts. The objective of this project will be to explore how to scale-up principles of origami for structural engineering applications. The student will first create an analytical model to study the motion and geometry of an origami inspired deployable structure. Next, a laser cutter will be used to fabricate panels for a scaled prototype of the structure. These individual panels will then be interconnected with metallic or plastic hinges that allow for deployment and reconfiguration. The systems will be constructed to minimize the stowed volume, while allowing for a reliable deployment that requires minimum force input. Time permitting, the student will conduct experimental testing to quantify the stiffness of different deployable systems.
Faculty Advisor: Will Hansen (email@example.com)
Graduate Student Mentor: Yuguo Zhong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A national effort is underway by State Highway Departments to develop long-life cost-effective pavements utilizing the latest advances in high performance concrete materials and mechanistic pavement design. The goal is to increase service life from current 20-25 years to 40 years or more without requiring major maintenance for interstate and high volume urban corridors, where traffic disruptions are a major problem. The main objectives of the current project sponsored by the Michigan Department of Transportation, MDOT, are (1) to evaluate permeability reducing materials and internal curing methods for mitigating curing-related shrinkage and which are highly resistant to deicer-salt frost exposure. (2) Analyze, using latest mechanistic-empirical design procedure, the combined effects of material improvements, traffic loading and climate exposure on long-term pavement performance. Experience will be gained in running test procedures and in data analysis for a variety of different concrete mixes as well as learning how to use the latest software for pavement design.
Faculty Advisors: Krista Wigginton (email@example.com) and Nancy Love (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Graduate Student Mentor: Heather Goetsch (email@example.com)
Prerequisite: Must be at least a junior with a focus in environmental engineering, chemical engineering or microbiology.
Human urine contains the bulk of the nitrogen and phosphorus that passes through municipal wastewater treatment plants, while comprising only 1% of the total volume. Separating urine at the beginning of the waste stream and producing urine-derived fertilizer from that urine could help supplement fertilizer demands and simultaneously reduce excess nutrient release to water bodies. Environmental and human health implications of human urine used as fertilizer must first be assessed. Bacteria, viruses, antibiotic resistance genes, and nutrients will be characterized in collected urine, urine processed through pasteurization, struvite precipitation and other methods, lysimeter water and vegetables. Student will learn wet chemistry water quality analyses to characterize nutrients and biological methods to track bacteria, viruses, and antibiotic resistance genes. Depending on interest, the student may also learn analytical chemistry methods to measure trace organic chemicals in the above mentioned constituents.
Faculty Advisors: Nancy Love (firstname.lastname@example.org), Krista Wigginton (email@example.com)
Prerequisite: Must be at least an experienced sophomore or rising junior with a focus in environmental engineering or chemical engineering.
Nutrients in wastewater can lead to harmful algal blooms that affect 70% of U.S. waters. Current approaches to removing these nutrients from wastewater are energy-intensive, costly, and environmentally harmful. Industrial fertilizer production processes also emit greenhouse gases and require scarce inputs. The urine fraction of human wastes contain the vast majority of nutrients (over 80% of nitrogen and 65% of phosphorus); therefore, it is an idea fraction of the waste stream to capture. Instead of diluting it with flush water to send to a centralized treatment plant, we attempt to separate it at the source and process it as a concentrated solution. So far, Drs. Love and Wigginton have led a team of researchers to evaluate urine treatment processes, evaluate the fate of biological and chemical contaminants, and evaluate perceptions to advance communication about urine-derived fertilizers. This year, the student will participate in ongoing research with both edible and non-edible plants fertilized with urine-derived fertilizer products. Work is expected to include both lab and field work. Students will have an opportunity to also interact with the non-profit Rich Earth Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Faculty Advisor: Jason McCormick (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Graduate Student Mentor: Malcolm Ammons (email@example.com)
Seismic activity each year leads to injury, loss of life, property damage and significant economic impacts to the affected areas. One solution is to improve the performance of buildings through passive control systems. The goal of this project is to address this problem through integration of non-traditional materials such as metal foams, polymer foams, and rubber into structural members to enhance their performance during a seismic event. These materials provide a unique means of adding energy dissipation capacity and inhibiting local buckling in steel members with minimal added weight. Specifically, this research will focus on the evaluation of the energy dissipation characteristics of these materials and their use in steel members. The student working on this project will determine the properties and energy dissipation capacity of these non-traditional materials through experimental tension, compression, and shear tests. Larger member tests of steel section incorporating these materials also will be conducted under cyclic and non-cyclic loadings. Experience will be gained in designing and running experimental tests, working with instrumentation to gather data, and analyzing the resulting data from experimental tests.
Faculty Advisor: Jerome P. Lynch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Graduate Student Mentor: Gabe Draughon (email@example.com)
As smart cities emerge, sensors and actuators are proliferating to monitor and control infrastructure systems. These cyber-enables systems can enhance infrastructure performance, introduce new modes of robustness, and make infrastructure management more cost effective. However, to be truly resilient, such systems must explicitly consider how people use infrastructure and infrastructure services. To “sense” the social dimension of infrastructure services, we are developing deep learning methods to automate the identification of people in cities and using a plethora of modeling tools to model their behavior. This project will work with a graduate student team in refining deep learning algorithms to model park patrons, adopt machine learning tools to classify their behavior, and develop visualization tools for park managers. The project will work closely with park conservancies in the City of Detroit.
Faculty Advisor: Jerome P. Lynch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Graduate Student Mentor: Kidus Admassu (email@example.com)
This project is developing machine learning tools to scalably process data derived from public transit systems to model their performance. The student recruited for this project will work with data collected from the Twin City Area Transit Authority (TCATA) to visualize performance metrics including on-time arrival, ridership demand, and origin-destination mapping. Student researcher will work with stakeholders from Benton Harbor on data acquisition, analysis and visualization.