Water Ways

A young researcher hopes to transform his curiosity for what lies beneath surface waters into breakthroughs for a healthier environment.

The ocean and other bodies of water have long held promise for Cary Troy. Family vacations along the Mississippi River and a study abroad program that allowed him to live on an Australian beach while attending the University of New South Wales instilled within him a natural curiosity about what goes on beneath the surface of those flows. Troy will bring that curiosity to Purdue in January 2007 to begin research in the hydraulics lab in the environmental fluid mechanics area.

"We are trying to tackle the complex things you see in nature with mathematics," says Troy, who studied flows in lakes and worked on stream bank stabilization as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois. There, his first environmental fluid mechanics course and independent study work in the hydraulics lab put his future in the direction of waterways. "I also liked working in the laboratory."

As a young man, Troy headed west to receive a master's (1997) and PhD (2003) from Stanford. He's been doing post–doctoral research at Stanford since 2004.

Along with a vested interest in the Midwest (he has family on the south side of Chicago) Troy is anxious to take what he's learned in the field and apply it to local bodies of water. "There are contamination issues with the Wabash and the White River," he says, "and I'll also get to study Lake Michigan."

Intensely interested in what happens inside oceans and lakes, the incoming assistant professor is also focused on internal waves. Even a trip to Starbucks can stir his imagination. Troy suggests looking to the latte, where less dense fluid (milk) rests atop heavier fluid (coffee), to get an idea of that interior action. "Temperature differences caused by the warming of the sun can result in lakes and oceans becoming density–stratified, where warmer water sits atop colder, denser water," he says. "Just as you can see the milk–coffee interface sloshing slowly in your coffee cup as a wave, internal waves slosh around in oceans and lakes, riding the thermocline that separates the two water masses."

These waves can reach enormous sizes, Troy says, eventually breaking and mixing the nutrient–rich deeper waters of oceans and lakes with the surface waters. "My research on internal waves hopes to improve our understanding of the mixing caused by these underwater waves so we can better predict the vertical movement of nutrients, pollutants, and biota within the water. These waves can affect the quality of drinking water taken from large lakes like Lake Michigan."

Troy will arrive on campus in February 2007, dig into his research, and begin teaching in the following fall semester. "It's an exciting time to come to Purdue with all the expansion they're doing within engineering, and there are a lot of people I'm excited to work with," he says.

He'll hope to add to the expansion by building a new facility in the hydraulics lab. And in addition to civil engineering colleagues such as Dennis Lyn and Rao Govindaraju, Troy will also be working with researchers from mechanical engineering, earth and atmospheric sciences, and the new Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering.

An avid scuba diver, Troy plans on diving right in at Purdue. His underwater research could result in applications that could make both for a better environment and better health of the people and animals within it. And that's the type of impact that can make a real splash.

—William Meiners