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EEE student Wang receives AWWA grant

Environmental and Ecological Engineering sophomore Qi Erica Wang hasn’t wasted any time starting her career as a water safety specialist. She jumped right into research as a freshman, and this summer will present in Denver at the national conference of the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
Qi Erica Wang receiving the grant certificate from Dawn M. Keyler, Executive Director, Indiana Section of AWWA

Wang was selected by the Indiana Section of AWWA to represent drinking water professionals from the State of Indiana at the conference. She also received the AWWA Besozzi Youth Delegate Grant, a travel grant. She will participate in the conference’s scientific poster competition.

Wang says she has always been interested in the environment. As a high school student, she targeted a career as a marine biologist, then shifted her focus to a study of environmental engineering. During her first semester in college, she was already preparing for graduate school, and went through the Environmental and Ecological Engineering faculty list to study their research interests and seek out an undergraduate research opportunity. She was drawn to research conducted by Andrew Whelton, an associate professor in Environmental and Ecological Engineering and at the Lyles School of Civil Engineering.

“I found his research both interesting and impactful, as his group was discovering important information about CIPP (cured in place pipe) that will change the future of pipe repair and save lives. I knocked on Professor Whelton’s door, hoping that I could be a part of such significant research. “I only realized the extent of how much I enjoy the water side of EEE when I started helping in Dr. Whelton's lab and conducting research,” Wang says.

Wang worked with the Whelton Research Group on two projects during Summer 2018. She sampled and analyzed drinking water at a nearby Net Zero-energy residence—the ReNEWW House living laboratory project headed by Eckhard Groll, the Reilly Professor of Mechanical Engineering and associate Engineering dean for Undergraduate and Graduate Education—-and at a local LEED middle school.

Wang also conducted her own bench-scale study about heavy metal deposition on pipes and found that heavy metals like lead and copper can leach from brass fittings and deposit onto two types of plastic drinking water pipes-- crosslinked polyethylene or PEX and chlorinated polyvinylchloride or CPVC—that are nearly ubiquitous in today’s buildings. She presented the results at the Indiana Section AWWA conference in January. “Her study helps water and public health professionals begin to understand how different plastic pipes are from one another, and if they are more susceptible to accumulating heavy metals like lead and copper than other materials,” says Whelton.

“Research experiences can give undergraduates better insights into the field they are studying, provide an opportunity to work on teams of highly skilled scientists and engineers, and offer a chance to receive recognition for their impact,” Whelton says.

Wang, a native of Columbus, Ohio, has continued through the school year to work in Whelton’s lab, with plans to pursue a master’s degree at Purdue and then work in industry.

“Being surrounded by people who clearly love what they do is very influential. Conducting research has solidified my love of EEE and my resolution that I'm doing things worth doing,” Wang says. “There is a lot of push towards sustainable development currently. It is important to study how implementations such as low-flows in plumbing affect water quality so that we are not sacrificing human health. Many of us take water for granted, but as recent crises such as Flint have shown us, it is important to study water quality and infrastructure because it is intertwined within everyday life.”