The ASET-REU program leverages the location of Clarkson’s New York State campuses (in Potsdam, Beacon, and the Capital District) in and along two of the United States’ most iconic, and environmentally and historically rich aquatic basins—the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River.

The following projects fit within the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River ASET REU theme, are organized into three foci of Aquatic Natural Sciences; Aquatic Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences; and Aquatic Resource Engineering, and are available to participate in for the upcoming summer. 

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Aquatic Natural Sciences Projects

Thomas Holsen’s lab studies the fate and transport of emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes. Past human activities have resulted in the emissions of numerous chemicals into the environment. Today there are >30,000 chemical substances in wide commercial use that could potentially cause similar problems as legacy chemicals; however, for the most part they have not been looked for in environmental media. In this project the concentrations of selected commercial chemicals in the Great Lakes, which are not being monitored in current measurement programs, will be determined. REU students will work with Tom and his lab group to use novel techniques to measure these contaminants in lake water, biota, and sediments. Results obtained will: 1) provide information about these new chemicals in the Great Lakes, 2) elucidate the processes responsible for pollutant cycling, and 3) provide information for regulators who may need to control the use of these chemicals. Undergraduates working on this long-term project have been co-authors on journal publications and conference presentations and participated in research cruises.

Silvana Andreescu’s research interests are in the areas of bioanalytical chemistry, electrochemistry, biosensing and environmental nanotechnology. Increased industrial and agricultural activity has affected the water circuit, with implications on the normal functioning of natural ecosystems and the availability of clean water sources for human consumption. Phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) export from agroecosystems has become a major issue with the increased rates and intensity of harmful algae blooms (HABs) and eutrophication acceleration, which kill fish, pollute drinking water, and alter tourism. The challenge of managing and preventing eutrophication is therefore two-fold: (1) the lack of effectively field monitoring tools that can identify areas of high P and N pollution and (2) the lack of engineering tools and methods to decrease environmental impact. Andreescu’s overall research project goal is to develop an easy-to-use inexpensive sensor that can selectively measure P in eutrophic waters. To achieve this goal, REU students will engineer materials possessing P-binding sites and graft them on high surface area sorbents with built in recognition and transduction capabilities. Students will test the hypothesis that these materials will respond and sense P by changing their properties upon binding, and that this mechanism can be used to create inexpensive sensors for monitoring essential nutrients in aquatic environments. Outcomes of this research will be a new technology solution to measure nutrients in contaminated nutrient-rich water sources with increased portability, low cost and the potential for large-scale deployment. This experience will provide REU students with the opportunity to acquire knowledge in materials synthesis and characterization as well as analytical skills, while developing novel technological solutions to current and emerging challenges in the environmental monitoring field.

Allen Gontz’s lab uses geophysical systems to investigate how and why landscapes have changed over time. Dr Gontz and his students have applied these techniques all over the world and are currently working in Australia, New Zealand and Spain to understand the climate-society, landscape-society and climate-landscape interactions. These investigations often take the form of mapping landscapes with ground penetrating radar, electrical resistivity and seismic reflection coupled with high resolution topography and aerial photography. Students will be exposed to preparing for field research projects, conducting field research, processing and interpretation of data, integration of data sources and synthesizing results using industry standard and state-of-the-art geophysical, computer and software systems. Examples of current projects include: 1) Understanding river sedimentation changes in an anthropogenically controlled river systems; 2) Using lake level changes to provide a context to climate changes over the past ~12,000 yrs in the Adirondacks and St Lawrence Lowlands; 3) Mapping former lake and wetland environments to unravel the flooding history of the St Lawrence Lowlands and the proglacial lake system that existed as ice retreated from the area during the last ice age; and 4) Understanding storm dynamics through changes in lagoon stratigraphy in large lakes.

Thomas Langen's project focuses on roads as a barrier to movement of aquatic and semi-aquatic animals. Road mortality, barriers to movement, and habitat contamination and degradation are all potential impacts of roads to animals inhabiting wetlands. Over 95% of wetlands in the US have been lost or severely degraded due to human activities, and the situation is similar elsewhere on earth. Given the very high value that remaining wetlands have for ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation, there is a need to understand and mitigate the environmental impact of roads. In this project, students will compare habitat degradation, road mortality, and road crossing patterns affecting vertebrate animals at roadways bisecting wetlands, at a series of such crossings that differ in terms of whether there is a potential passageway under the road and the type of passage (e.g. tube culvert, box culvert, bridge). Research activities include landscape and site-level GIS analysis, road surveys, and camera trapping. Tom has supervised research for >100 undergraduates; 27 of whom are co-authors with him.

Dr. Masudul Imtiaz and his AI Vision Lab are studying to develop an AI-vision-enabled environmental monitoring sensor to detect Microplastics in the aquatic environment. This camera-based approach can overcome the limitations of traditional lengthy and obtrusive instrumentations. In the lab setup of recirculating open channel flume, a low-cost, submerged Logitech C270 camera interfaced with a portable computer, and a YOLOv5 model was trained to detect the microplastics. A Deep-SORT model was finally employed to track the microplastics and detect their velocities. The revised design aims to perform real-time object detection on the embedded processor to improve portability and convenience in data analysis. The system will be built on a battery-powered portable stand-alone NVIDIA Jetson AGX processor interfaced with a high-resolution camera. REU students will study and identify the appropriate processor and camera model on a trial-and-error basis. The sensor system will be developed in the lab with the assistance of the Center for Advanced PCB Design and Manufacturing of Clarkson University. The sensor firmware will also be developed in a Linux environment. The REU students will also support the resaerch by exploring broader implementation and testing on several water body locations and exploring the possible redesign of the system.

Aquatic Resource Engineering Projects

Abul Baki’s ecohydraulics research lab was built to enhance our understanding of the ecohydraulics for healthy water solutions. Rivers and streams in the coastal watershed are highly threatened by habitat fragmentation, expressed by the number of barriers (e.g., dams, culverts, road crossing), which is a major impediment to restoring many aquatic populations and species. Because of these barriers, thousands of waterways in the coastal watershed are impassable to fish and other aquatic species; native fish species are unable to reach historic spawning grounds or food sources and thus their populations have rapidly declined. With habitat fragmentation progressing worldwide, ecohydraulics research put much effort into conservation measures for maintaining and restoring the ecological connectivity of coastal riverine habitats. Abul’s research lab focuses on interdisciplinary research with a number of cross-cutting themes in ecohydraulics, hydraulics, aquatic connectivity, fish/mussel habitat suitability, river restoration, sediment transport, shoreline/coastline erosion, microplastics dynamics, etc. to address the critical challenges in the aquatic ecosystems. Abul mentored 3 NSF REU students, 10 undergraduate students, some of them (3) have been co-authors on award winning publications and conference presentations.

Elizabeth J. Podlaha-Murphy's REU project seeks to remove nitrates from wastewater using innovative electrolysis processes. Nitrate, 〖NO〗_3^-, one of the most ubiquitous chemical contaminants in groundwater and some industrial waste streams, is both a health and environmental concern. Excess nitrate in drinking water has known deleterious health effects, many that stem from nitrite as a result of the partial reduction of nitrate. Since approximately one-third of the world's population uses groundwater for drinking there is an urgent need to ensure it is nitrate-free. An electrochemical nitrate approach is used to remove nitrates from wastewater. A barrier to the wide adoption of electrolysis is the high energy needs for electrochemical reduction; hence better electrocatalysts are needed, with long lasting stability. This project’s goal is to better understand nitrate reduction onto transition metal catalysts targeting a wide pH range covering a region where transition metals readily form oxides and where they do not, to probe the influence of the surface conditions to enhance activity and selectivity of nitrate reduction to nitrogen. REU students will electrodeposit transition metal alloy electrocatalysts, including cobalt-iron and test them in a simulated nitrate wastewater/waste effluent with a three electrode electrochemical cell.

Yang Yang’s group integrates chemical engineering, environmental chemistry, and material science principles to address critical challenges in renewable energy production, water treatment, and water reclamation. Ongoing projects in his group to enhance water security include the development of: 1) an electrochemical oxidation process for the treatment of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in landfill leachate; 2) a fast electrochemical disinfection process for the inactivation of pathogens and the control of antibiotic-resistant gene; 3) an electrochemical method for the control of harmful algae bloom in aquatic systems. REU students will learn the principles of redox chemistry, electrochemistry, and advanced oxidation/reduction processes. Students also will receive immersive experience on 1) the design and operation of the electrochemical reactor and 2) the analysis of the transformation of target pollutants during electrochemical treatment. In addition to lab-based studies, students will have hands-on experience in operating the full-scale (500 m3/d) boat-mount electrochemical algae treatment prototype in Great Lakes-St. Lawrence watersheds. Also, we are expecting to have field tests every summer to evaluate the performance of a full-size HAB terminator product in a New York State lake. The REU project could be integrated into this research task.

Taeyoung Kim’s lab develops innovative electrochemical technologies to remove and recover nutrients from wastewater, which will not only address their harmful effect on aquatic systems but also conserve the value when properly recovered for fertilizer. Electrochemical methods allow for separating charged nutrients, such as ammonium (N) and phosphate (P), of which concentration varies significantly depending on the source, requiring different strategies for nutrient recovery. Students will study the overall landscape of wastewater generation and treatment processes, and have opportunities to operate several electrochemical systems applicable to several different sources including sewage, landfill leachate, and anaerobic digestion dewatering side stream. Selective membrane or electrode are required to remove low concentrations of ammonium-N in sewage. To handle high ammonium-N concentrations in landfill leachate and side stream, the solution pH is elevated to drive ammonium-N towards ammonia-N by electrochemical reactions. Volatile ammonia-N will be recovered by membrane stripping. Struvite precipitation is used to recover both N and P in wastewater but its solution chemistry must be met for effective crystallization. Energy consumption will be quantified to assess technical and environmental benefits together with resource recovery efficiency. Collectively, Dr. Kim’s lab will provide undergraduate students with research experience in the field of energy, environment, and electrochemistry, which is highly interdisciplinary in nature.

Dr. Siwen Wang’s lab develops novel nucleic acid-based detection methods for waterborne pathogens with the overarching goal of providing an array of healthy water solutions. Proper assessment of waterborne pathogens plays a pivotal role in decision-making regarding water distribution system infrastructure and choosing the best water treatment practices to prevent waterborne disease outbreaks. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based methods, especially real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR), have become the state-of-the-art biomolecular method for nucleic acid level detection for pathogens since its invention in the late 20th century. However, these methods usually require expensive and bulky instruments, complicated preparation procedures, and experienced personnel, which prevent their applications for on-site or point-of-use detection. In the last two decades, there have been numerous advances in biosensing technologies that can potentially break these limitations and provide alternatives or supplements to the traditional PCR-based methods for pathogen detection. In this project, students will learn basic microbiology lab skills, including microbial culturing, DNA extraction, and qPCR analysis, and participate in developing a novel nucleic acid-based fluorescent biosensor for detecting waterborne pathogens. Students will also have the opportunity to go on a field trip for lake water sampling in upstate New York in the summer. 

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