WPI Students Work Toward Clean Water for All

Through hands-on projects and clubs, students are taking important strides in creating solutions to protect our most critical natural resource
March 21, 2017

From understanding water regulations and incorporating cultural norms around water to fine-tuning the technology that purifies water, WPI's students have long had a passion to protect this natural resource. As humans and wildlife depend on access to abundant, plentiful, and clean water, students are using their knowledge to improve water conservation and treatment and to promote education about our dependence on water. 

As World Water Day is celebrated globally, read how a few WPI students are making the world better by thinking about and working with this critical and precious resource. A recent Daily Herd article also highlights work students are doing to improve water contamination and conservation right here in Massachusetts.

Brendan Johnson, CE '17, FPE '18

Clean water is essential for a healthy life, but many people also depend on clean water for their livelihood. Brendan Johnson discovered how far-reaching water issues are when his Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) team’s project recommended a new and improved wastewater treatment facility in Puerto Rico. This civil engineering and Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) major learned how critical clean water is for the biggest industry in the island – tourism. “Ensuring clean water keeps tourists coming back,” he says. But the scope of water regulations surprised him and showed him just how his work can be transformative. “Extremely small amounts of different chemicals and compounds can have huge implications on different bodies of water,” he says. “Filtering these tiny compounds is a true feat of engineering.” Always fascinated by green technology, Brendan grew up near the coast and hopes his work will keep the environment as a whole healthy and well so future generations will have the clean beaches, lakes, and ponds he enjoyed as a kid. And as a fire protection engineering student, Brendan’s keenly aware of protecting water resources from contamination or needless waste. “Ideally, keeping the environment in mind in all my future work would be rewarding for me,” he says.

"Ideally, keeping the environment in mind in all my future work would be rewarding for me." -Brendan Johnson, CE '17, FPE '18

Julia Scott, EVE '17

No stranger to the benefits of clean water, environmental engineering major Julia Scott grew up near the coast and saw the direct implications of all the things that influence water quality. But by focusing on stormwater runoff in her Major Qualifying Project (MQP), and being surprised by the sparse regulations and controls surrounding it, Julia knew her team’s project examining runoff from highways would have a direct, positive impact on drinking water in communities and in wildlife habitat. Working directly on water projects also helps Julia align her personal and professional goals. “I have wanted to be an environmental engineer since I was very young,” says Julia, “and I have always wanted to do work that directly impacts a community.”

Even without abundant regulations, Julia says she’s impressed that the U.S. government spends time and effort protecting this resource from pollutants and regularly tests water quality to ensure safety. Through WPI’s American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists student society, Julia has attended presentations to keep up with the latest research, treatment methods, and current water concerns. “Water is such an essential aspect of our daily lives that it is crucial we protect, conserve, and improve it,” says Julia. “It is such a basic human right that everyone deserves to have and enjoy.”

"Water is such an essential aspect of our daily lives that it is crucial we protect, conserve, and improve it." -Julia Scott, EVE '17

Meghan Trahan, EVE '17

As a kid, environmental engineering student Meghan Trahan always wanted to work on helping preserve and foster the planet. When she discovered environmental engineering, she found the ideal match for helping both the earth and the people living on it. At her IQP in Thessaloniki, Greece, Meghan worked on water issues like fresh water scarcity and freshwater habitat degradation at the American Farm School. Her team’s project looked at the many angles of water use and protection and combined the social and technical elements surrounding water issues. Seeing the complicated connections between how people need, want, and depend on fresh water and how obstacles can prevent that from happening, propels Meghan to focus on water and wastewater treatment as a way to make an impact in habitual preservation/remediation and public health and wellness. “I am only a small part of a much larger network of people working towards creating laws, conducting research, and designing and building projects to further the health of people and their environment,” says Meghan. She knows her work can help humanity. “If the world were 100 people, nine would not have access to safe, clean water,” she says. “I find it motivating to prevent that number from growing.”

"If the world were 100 people, nine would not have access to safe, clean water. I find it motivating to prevent that number from growing." -Meghan Trahan, EVE '17

Jenna O’Connell, CE '17

Jenna O’Connell, a chemical engineering major, says her basic belief that everyone deserves access to safe fresh water sources is a driving factor in her motivation to work with water. Working on an MQP that takes treated wastewater and then passes it through additional steps so it can be used as process water in an industrial setting gives Jenna the satisfaction of knowing she’s reaching her goal of making a positive impact on the community. “To me, the best way to achieve that goal was to work in water/wastewater treatment and management since everyone needs and deserves safe water resources,” says Jenna. If industries aren’t careful and thoughtful about how they dispose of wastes, contaminants from untreated wastewater can eventually get back into water sources that supply drinking water, she says. As a future chemical engineer, Jenna knows she can change that. “I hope to use my degree to look into the impact that chemicals have on fresh water sources,” says Jenna. “I hope to be able to continue my work and do research into removing chemical contaminants from wastewater so we can maintain our current standard of living without sacrificing the welfare of the surrounding environment.”

"I hope to use my degree to look into the impact that chemicals have on fresh water sources." -Jenna O'Connell, CE '17

Keep the Conservation Conversation Going

From visiting experts to discussions and presentations, WPI hosts several water-related events every year. Check out two that are coming up: a giveaway in the Campus Center sponsored by the WPI chapter of Engineers without Borders for World Water Day, and a presentation by Ian Weyburne from the City of Worcester Sewer Department on how the city handles storm and waste water.