Anne-marie Senatus: Improving Water Quality for All

My name is Anne-marie Senatus. I am a second-year student majoring in civil engineering with a concentration in environmental engineering. I am also a first-generation student and part of the CARE19 class. My interests are in water resources, water treatment, and water quality. I grew up in Haiti where having clean, running water was a privilege. In order to have running water in your home, one must wait until the district makes it available, which can take weeks or even months. However, when it becomes available, most people are unable to afford it, yet even if they are the water often runs out.

In many regions, residents do not even have that option and must rely on underground springs and rivers. Although that water is often contaminated, it is used for cooking, laundering, showering, dish washing, and even drinking. When I moved the United States, I learned that my country was not the only country with limited access to clean water. Recognizing this issue sparked my interest in water-related research. In the near future, I hope to pursue a PhD in Environmental Engineering with a concentration in international development. Having firsthand experience with what it is like to live in a home without proper resources has profoundly impacted my career choices. I want to put an end to the water crisis in developing countries like mine by building better water resources and better access to clean water. I believe that having access to clean water should be a right, not a privilege.

The purpose of the project that I plan on working on this summer is to address many people misconceptions about bacteria and to prove that they can be used to remove certain contaminants from wastewater. The contaminant being focused on for this project is selenium. Selenium is a nonmetal chemical element commonly found in wastewater particularly in powerplants. When present in large amounts, it is known to be highly toxic and the cause of reproductive failure and hair loss. If selenium is removed from water, it may be used for the production of glass, alloys, steel, and even oil. It can be removed from water using various biological processes such as reverse osmosis, ion exchange, and zerovalent iron treatment. But using these particular processes have been proven to be costly and environmentally destructive.

To address this problem, I will be creating a water treatment system to help separate elemental selenium, biomass, and water from each other. The system will consist of three different units: a biological reactor, a bacterium selenium nanoparticle (SeNP) separator, and a tangential flow ultrafiltration module (TFU). All three units have been used to independently treat contaminated water but have never been used together. My hypothesis is to prove that they will be able to work together to achieve successful separation of elemental selenium, biomass, and water. I have already built the first part of the of the system, the biological reactor, as part of my Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program’s (UROP) project.

During this coming summer semester, I plan to finish the system by creating a bacterium selenium nanoparticle (SeNP) separator, and a tangential flow ultrafiltration module (TFU). I have chosen my UROP mentor, Dr. Youneng Tang, to be my major supervising professor since he has a particular expertise in environmental engineering practices and water treatment. I will be building the system and conducting experiments in his lab this summer. During the first month of the summer, I plan to purchase the necessary materials for the last two parts of the system to start building them. I will then put the entire system together and start conducting experiments the remainder of the summer.

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