In the brunt of schoolwork during the semester, sometimes it’s hard to remember your final goal or the purpose of what you’re studying. Honestly, we learn so much information in our environmental engineering classes and it’s sad that a lot of it is forgotten once finals are over. This reality sometimes makes being motivated to learn difficult. The other night, in the midst of this negative mindset and jaded from the week’s workload, having just studied for soil mechanics and doing reading for environmental case studies, I made a cool connection. The reading was about the draught problem in California. They’re extracting so much water from the aquifers that the ground level is actually shrinking! What’s funny is that an hour prior, I was doing soil mechanics homework where I had to figure out the amount of soil settlement from a specific decrease in the water table. Wow! Finally a direct connection between classes that also applies to the real world. Even though I do not plan on pursuing a profession in the civil or water resources engineering field because that is not where my interests lie, it was still neat realizing that I have the basic knowledge to figure out the amount of settlement due to a draught that is causing problems in the real world. Moral of the story, even as an IDEAS major, sometimes you have required classes that you just have to take whether you like it or not. It becomes a lot easier to appreciate these courses when you can make real world applications.
I really don’t even need to write anything do I? This is a picture of the front lawn and Linderman Library, admittedly from last fall, but I just had to post it because it basically defines the autumn season here at Lehigh. The warm colors of the leaves absorb all of your worries as you are walking to class and help you remember how lucky you are to go here.
This may be the only case ever that I was just as excited for Saturday morning as I was for Friday night. At 7am, the bus containing myself and my Environmental Case Studies class left for Palmerton, PA to visit the Lehigh Gap Nature Center and conjunctively the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site. Yes, you read the sentence right. A superfund site that coexists as a nature center. What!?
To give a brief history, this area was deemed a superfund site after waste from a zinc smelting company in Palmerton did some damage on the surrounding environment. The face of Blue Mountain went from being lively and vegetated to a deserted “moonscape” as they say, devoid of most living animals and plants. This was caused by acid rain and extremely elevated levels of zinc and other heavy metals deposited in the soil, all from the zinc smelting byproducts.
The Lehigh Gap Nature Center took on the challenge of remediating the side of Blue Mountain, and they’ve done a great job. They took the engineering approach of doing what nature would do; since warm season grasses successfully grow in metal-containing soil, they were planted and are thriving on the formerly disrupted side of Blue Mountain. Hopefully this will lead to the next step in forest succession.
Ironically, a major inhibitor of this remediation project is caused by phytoremediation. Birch trees are growing here and translocating the heavy metals from the soil into their biomass. Once the leaves fall, the heavy metals in the leaves are again becoming available to the surrounding ecosystem. This ultimately undoes what the nature center strives to do: gradually bury the contaminated soil with layers of the warm-season grasses.
This is what a birch tree leaf with elevated metal levels looks like:
The zinc essentially prevents the chlorophyll from working, so unlike a normal leaf where it changes color from one side to the other, you can tell this leaf is contaminated because it is dying at the border and moving its way towards the center.
Now next time you’re on a superfund site, you’ll know which leaves not to…eat. If only somebody could warn the animals to do the same thing!
CEE 10 is a great class to kick off my 3 years as a Civ E. In this class we forget about the math and science that is so prevalent in the rest of my classes to look at something different.
Engineering Design. So you know the math, you’ve done the calculations, and you have a picture in your head. How do you make that a reality? Well you could build it by yourself, or try to explain in words to others the plan of you project. However, most likely you are going to have to put your plans on paper. This is why CEE 10 is such an important class.
Here I learn to manually draw designs using an old fashion ruler and compass. Then we take to the computers to use Autocad software
To build a model on the computer. I can now create floor plans and model 3D objects. Our next step is to use our newly acquired knowledge in groups to plan out our own version of a redesign of the CEE department.
When people think about engineering they immediately think about math. Most of the time they would be right in saying that engineering is about math. However there is more to it than that. We aren’t mathematicians. We bring math to life through objects and designs and CEE 10, engineering design brings me that much closer to being an engineer.
This weekend I am lucky enough to take a vacation to Florida to see my dad. Therefore, this should be interesting as I am writing this at 30,000 feet right now on a little five inch screen.
Going on this vacation made this past week a little difficult, however. I will be away through Tuesday and that means missing both days of classes. I had to speak with professors about possibly missing any surprise quizzes in advance and ask for any additional reading or work that will keep me caught up. In addition I had to finish up any homework due next week 5 days early so I could have it handed in on time for me while I’m away.
This brings me to the point of this blog. The CEE department at Lehigh University is a: challenging, yet fair; small, but capable, and a demanding but understanding department at Lehigh. As I was doing the work ahead of time I realized how far I had come as far as acquiring knowledge since joining the CEE department. However, even with such a large work load I am not nearly stressed as I was this time last year because the professors are engaging and helpful and the material is interesting and more than occasionally fun.
I also have found that being a part of a smaller department I share the same schedule with most other CEE sophomores. This helps immensely because I can find help with homework and studying whenever I need. In this instance though the most useful part is having someone to hand in my work and to reiterate important parts of each lecture when I am away.
Overall the Civil and Environmental department is a great group to be a part of. The people are down to earth. The work is exciting and rewarding, and everyone is out with a common goal: the success of the department, it’s professors and its students.
How ironic is it that less than 24 hours after taking off from the San Francisco airport to journey home to Delaware County, PA, the Bay Area was shaken by the biggest earthquake since 1989? I loved living in California but man, I feel so much safer in Pennsylvania where earthquakes, tarantulas, and mountain lions aren’t a worry. Now, my worries revolve around figuring out how to use Matlab for my engineering statistics class…
Aside from that pain, the start of the semester has been great. The courses I am taking are Environmental Engineering Processes, Environmental Case Studies, CEE Soil Mechanics, CEE Fluids, and CEE statistics. Environmental Engineering Processes is really interesting because it’s all about modeling the behavior of environmental contaminants. Since I spent the summer working with contaminated soil, it will be nice to know on a more microscopic and mathematical basis what’s going on in there. In the course thus far, we’ve learned laws regarding saturation, sorption, and translocation of these molecules.
Another cool class is Environmental Case Studies, which is actually a writing-intensive course. In this class we read about controversial environmental topics and then have (sometimes heated) class discussions regarding our positions. Each of us had to write a paper on environmental racism in Chester, Pa, which is pretty interesting and sad since I live 10 minutes from there.
Although classes keep me busy, I still make it a priority to enjoy myself. For instance, today my friend and I woke up at 6am and hiked up to mountaintop to see the lunar eclipse. Unfortunately, we’re slow walkers and we missed it…but the view of early fall from Iacocca was worth the exhaustion I’m going to feel later!