Category Archives: Arts/Engineering

Engineering-Filled Weekend

The countdown is on! As we begin our last week of classes, it’s finally hitting some of us that finals are right around the corner. As engineering students, the amount of 3-hour long finals that await us is daunting. Good thing that this weekend, Lehigh hosted some fun engineering activities for students (all were, of course, welcome to come regardless of their major!).IMG_5556

On Friday, SHPE (the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) and NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) hosted the 3rd Annual Egg Drop Challenge. This Egg Drop required participants to create a device that would cause an egg NOT to break as it was dropped from various heights. The catch to this egg-drop though was that no parachutes were allowed. With this restriction, we were all excited to see what designs each team would come up with. While some used only cotton balls, others opted for straws and newspapers. The two winning teams would be selected by 1) having their eggs survive the fall and 2) having used the least amount of supplies. The two lucky winners were rewarded gift cards as prizes. As a host and coordinator to the event, it was fun watching the creativity of the students as they put a lot of thought into their designs!


On Saturday, Tau Beta Pi and CREATE club hosted the 2nd Annual Engineering Day. This event consisted of 5 different engineering activities where teams were able to tap into different fields of engineering regardless (again) of their major! One of the activities was led by EWB where teams were required to build a canal of some sort using foil, straws, etc to transport water from a bucket at one end to a bucket at the other end using the least amount of supplies. Another activity put to use our knowledge of basic chemistry as we had to create a solution with a very acidic pH using common household supplies and food (ie, vinegar, oil, apple juice, etc). For this activity, we weren’t told what all supplies were, which is what added suspense to the activity. Were we adding an acidic liquid to our solution? Was the white powdered-stuff actually basic?  My favorite activity out of all 5 was a rocket-pressure activity. Using soda bottles, we had to tape wings of some sort that would have our ‘rocket’ suspended in the air for a long time after using water to launch it.

All of the activities were very fun. We got to put our knowledge of engineering to use and even non-engineering stuff came in handy (ie the activity were we had to build an airplane using cardboard, paper, and thin sticks. My teammates decided to put to use elementary school knowledge as they opted for making a paper airplane instead!)


I can’t wait to participate again at next year’s Engineering! And a big congrats to the winners of this year’s Engineering Day: Coding For the Future !!


On the Mountaintop

As I sit typing this, I am on my lunch break in a giant renovated warehouse at the top of the Lehigh Mountain.  Indoor plants with purple flowers line the center walkway and juxtapose the gray cement floor and surrounding cinderblock walls.  Square workspaces formed by dozens of whiteboards containing doodles, brainstorming notes, and bubble letters frame the building’s perimeter, housing groups of creative students, some fastidious and some mellifluous, collaborating their crazy thoughts.  I am at the site of the Mountaintop Projects.


Mountaintop Project Site (Photocred: Dan Levy and Freddy the Quadcopter)

This umbrella program provides grants to research groups who want to explore some invention or theory they are passionate about, and up here all of the resources to promote thinking and creativity are provided.  I am in the “Low-Energy Sustainable Farming” group researching how to integrate the Lehigh Community Garden with the campus and make it more sustainable.  So far, there are two sides of the project: an environmental engineering side and an environmental studies side (perfect for IDEAS majors).  The environmental engineering side involves installing solar panels at the garden to offset the energy used by the water pump for watering the plants.  The environmental studies side, which surprisingly contains more challenging obstacles, involves working with Lehigh faculty and staff to devise a plan to keep the garden growing and thriving for the years to come.  We have to use our knowledge of sustainable gardening and its potential impact on the community to show the faculty and staff how much potential it has!  We are even looking into creating a business loop where students get paid to grow vegetables for the Lehigh dining services.  Being in the IDEAS program has helped me through this project because I’ve been trained to not only look at technical aspects of a project but the social, political, and ethical aspects as well, which are equally as important.  Here’s a picture of the thriving community garden, which is growing delicious broccoli, kale, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, zucchini, and much more as I type this!

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Lehigh Community Garden

Some Data and Muir Woods

This weekend we took a road trip up the 101 (yes, that’s the highway quoted in the song California by Phantom Planet) to the San Francisco Bay Area where the Redwood trees grow.  We found ourselves walking through Muir Woods, gazing up at these 200 foot trees the writer and conservationist John Muir wrote poems about a hundred years ago.  He’s the one who said,”When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”  How right he is!

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Fun fact: some of these redwoods have been standing for a thousand years and are pretty fire resistant thanks to their moist bark.

We also came across a sign indicating that the surrounding space is a “First Amendment Area”.  This must be where groups can stand to petition for their cause.  From my previous experience as a petitioner for the Food & Water Watch, I can say it would be nice if parks everywhere set aside a place like this for petitioners and speakers!  California and especially the Bay Area seem to be very forward-thinking compared to the rest of the United States, so I wasn’t too surprised to see a cool sign like this.

Our drive home on Highway 1 was breathtaking, both because of the beautiful scenery and the fact that our car could fall off a cliff if the driver tried to appreciate the view with the rest of us.

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The picture on the right is a similar view off of California Highway 1 after the clouds rolled in.  You literally cannot tell how high up you are and feel like you’re floating in the sky.

Back on the ground, there have been some discoveries made with the phytoremediation plants.  The three native California plants I have been working with–Coyote Brush, Mulefat, and Purple Needlegrass–were tested to see which chemicals they were emitting and if these chemicals happened to be the organic contaminants from the soil they were planted in or not.  It turns out, my method of capturing volatilized chemicals worked, because the gas chromatogram showed peaks for molecules that plants are known to emit!  Of these are stearic and oleic acid, which are fatty acids, and D-Limonine, an essential oil.  This is what one of my chromatograms looked like.  Each peak indicates a chemical that was essentially volatilized by the plant.Sorbent In

And this is what the computer tells you when you click on a peak:


To me, it’s so exciting to be able to determine what chemicals an unknown sample consists of.  All you have to do is run it through the GC-MS and voila, the database lists all of the possibilities of what the chemical could be.  The crazy looking molecule pictured above is Stigmastan-3,5-diene, an antimicrobial compound found in tree roots and emitted by the plants I was testing!

Though none of the organic contaminants were captured, establishing a working system for determining what the plants give off was a necessary step.  Next, some independent variables will be changed in order to increase the likelihood of capturing a contaminant from the soil that the plants are potentially phytovolatilizing.

Chelating Agents and Starfish

The phytoremediation research that I’m doing here at Cal Poly requires a bit of creativity.  To give some background before I delve into the interesting tests we are running, phytoremediation is a form of environmental remediation that uses plants to clean up chemical contaminants in the soil.  I am working with three native California plants–coyote brush, mulefat, and purple needlegrass–to determine their ability to take up chemicals in the contaminated soil.

Here is a summary of the organic contaminants that the soil contains:


  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are a man-made chemical found in transformer fluid and banned for use by U.S. Congress in 1979

Dioxin (2,3,7,8_TCDD)

  • Chlorinated dioxins, which are produced from smelting and also naturally from forest fires and volcanoes


  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other petroleum hydrocarbons, which are found in crude oil

There’s also a plethora of metals in the soil, some of which are dangerous…like mercury.  What I am going to explain in this post is how we plan to help the plants extract mercury from the soil they’re planted in.

The mercury in the soil is in Hg(II) form.  Basically, Hg(II) is taken into the plant by its roots and travels through the stems to its foliage.  During this process, Hg(II) is reduced to Hg(0) by mechanisms in the plant that are still being researched.  Once the Hg(0) reaches the foliage, it is released into the air as a gas via the stomata.  The stomata are essentially holes in the plant’s leaves that open and close depending on the pressure differential from the moisture in the air.

The beauty of mother nature’s setup is this: Hg(0) is less likely to be harmful to people and in the environment than Hg(II).  Because Hg(II) can more easily form organic mercury compounds, which are the most dangerous, it is better that mercury be in the Hg(0) form and out of the soil, which is teeming with organic molecules that have Hg(II) binding potential.

So, to recap, we are researching to determine which of the three plants, if any, have this potential to uptake mercury from the soil into their roots and volatilize it as a way less-harmful gas into the air.

Next is the fun part.  We decided to add a chelating agent, EDTA, to the soil to increase the plant uptake.   Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is an organic molecule that forms multiple bonds with an ion, encapsulating it.  It’s like putting a wrapper around a sticky piece of candy so that it won’t get stuck in your pocket.  The wrapper is the chelating agent, the sticky piece of candy is the ion, and the surroundings are the soil.  Because contaminants adsorb, or “stick”, to the soil, they need help detaching from it.  Once the chemicals are not adsorbed to the soil, they are more easily guided through the plant root cells. Below is a picture of the chelating agent (clear) that we added to the soil:

photo 3 (1)


So far, the plants that received a dose have started to get brown leaves and die.  This could be because the EDTA did what we wanted it to and increased the sequestration of Hg in the roots, stems, and foliage.  However, it’s likely that EDTA prevented the plant from receiving other vital metals that it naturally uptakes from the soil.

In my next post I will explain the process of analyzing what chemicals the plants volatilize.

On another note, this weekend the other REU students and I went to Montana De Oro, home to giant sand dunes and starfish!


I have never seen a real-life starfish, so this was exciting!  We spent the afternoon walking on the rocks and finding sea anemones.  I noticed a black, sticky tar that covered most of the rocks and think this may be from oil pollution in the ocean.  It was nice to see that the rest of the beach and park was clean though!

Horizons End

I have greatly enjoyed my time here in Abu Dhabi. There are definitely many new buildings and opportunities arising out of this desert, changing and creating new horizons. It is amazing how much the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have grown in just a few decades of time. From small desert outposts to growing international communities. There are people working and living in Abu Dhabi from every known corner of the world. It has been wonderful to spend time learning from and talking to people from other places and other cultures. As much as I have enjoyed seeing and learning about the architecture and structures in the UAE, it is the people I met here that I will miss the most.

Kalifa Port End

Although figuratively for me since, it is also nearing the end of my trip here to the UAE. This is the end of Abu Dhabi Island. Literally, these rocks prevent the sand from eroding away at the end of the Khalifa Port. They also provide a beautiful view for sitting down and looking out at the Arabian Gulf.

As it is with most journeys then end of one, is also the beginning of another. There will be more horizons waiting back in the USA.

UAE Pavilion from Shanghai Expo 2010

The UAE was the first gulf nation to present a pavilion at Venis Biennale. This design built in Shanghai in 2010 rises and falls like a sand dune oriented along the wind. The passive solar space was designed by Foster + Partners. After the Expo the pavilion was moved to a new development and cultural center being built on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. When construction finishes, this district will including museums such as the Zayed National Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi, and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Although the interior of the pavilion is not open to visitors, except during an annual local arts fair, I was able to see the exterior of this wonderful design.
For more info on the pavilion:
National Pavilion UAE
For information and plans on other Saadiyat Island structures:

Al Bahr Towers – Gulf Facades

The Al Bahr Towers have a wonderful façade design for the climate here in Abu Dhabi. Designed by Aedas Architects and Arup Engineers worked together to design a folding active geometric patterned façade that actively moves throughout the day to block the sun from having a harsh direct impact on the building, but allowing a wonderful view out the windows when the sun is at an acceptable angle. I have had the opportunity to drive past these towers during different times of the day. Although unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of it several times. I also learned that here in the Gulf region it is rather common for the architect to come up with a general façade concept and the sub contract out the actual technical design of the final façade. I don’t know how that worked for the Al Bahr Towers, but for many of the building surfaces here the facades can be quite complex.

Al Bahar Towers

Check out for more great info on the Al Bahr Towers.

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