MCSI Summer Research Symposium Showcases Undergrad Sustainability Research
PITTSBURGH (Aug. 19, 2019) — From using machine learning to identify birdsongs to finding a way to use silk as a plastic alternative, students in the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation’s (MCSI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program have been working hard all summer on research that contributes to sustainability. On Wednesday, July 24, the 12-week program culminated in the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, where 21 students in the program presented their research with a poster, a 10-minute presentation and a two-minute video.
Attendees voted at the end of the symposium, and Mason Unger’s presentation “Recirculating Aquaculture: Managing Water Quality in a Closed System” won first place. Kareem Rabbat’s presentation “Small & Mighty: Exploring Nature to Identify Bacteria Capable of Degrading a New Generation of Environmental Contaminants,” was awarded second place.
“All of the students have done amazing work and learned a great deal about the future of sustainability,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of MCSI. “Our planet depends on the innovative thinking that the students practiced this summer.”
First Place: Recirculating Aquaculture: Managing Water Quality in a Closed System
Mason Unger, who is majoring in civil and environmental engineering, worked with David Sanchez, PhD, on a project related to land-based fish farming, or recirculating aquaculture. This fishing method helps reduce overfishing in the oceans, and it is a way to provide a sustainable protein source. However, one major issue is that the fish can take on an unpleasant flavor due to the chemical compounds that build up in the water. Mason and Dr. Sanchez have worked toward a way to identify and, eventually, remove the compounds causing the unpleasant flavors without creating additional waste water.
Second Place: Small & Mighty: Exploring Nature to Identify Bacteria Capable of Degrading a New Generation of Environmental Contaminants
Kareem Rabbat, who is majoring in civil and environmental engineering, worked with his advisor Sarah Haig, PhD, to identify and isolate bacteria that are capable of degrading emerging contaminants—namely, nonylphenol and bisphenol (BPA)— in the environment. These contaminants are unregulated in Pennsylvania, allowing companies to release as much as they need to meet production. The team hopes that these bacteria, once found, can sustainably remove nonylphenol and BPA from contaminated water and soil, replacing current cleanup methods that include removal and incineration of thousands of tons of soil.
Contact: Maggie Pavlick