Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives since the moment they can talk. Unfortunately, that person was not me. I was always a curious student; I gravitated to anything that made me ask “why?” Soon after attending a summer camp focused on Women in STEM in middle school, I decided I wanted to study engineering. I wanted to change the world, didn’t we all? I knew that engineering would help me get there but one question still remained “what kind of engineering?”
There seemed to be an endless list of possibilities, when I stumbled across the term “environmental engineering” while researching USC. It wasn’t one of the majors I had ever even heard of! I had heard of chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and civil engineering, but environmental engineering? What was this!?! After reading up about it a bit more, I knew that this was for me.
So, what is environmental engineering you ask? Environmental engineering is “the branch of engineering that is concerned with protecting people from the effects of adverse environmental effects, such as pollution, as well as improving environmental quality.” However, to me environmental engineering is simply being able to assure our planet is safe for us to live on for years to come. Here at USC we have an amazing department who emphasizes on discovering new ways to increase sustainability, from water to energy conservation.
This year I had to opportunity to enroll in CE-210: Introduction to Microbiology in Environmental Engineering. Doesn’t sound very exciting, huh? I thought the same too, but was quickly proven wrong. In this class, taught by Dr. Massoud Pirbazari, a world leader is water conservation, we learned about some of the world’s tiniest microorganism and how they can be used to clean up the world’s largest problems! It was fascinating to me how organisms that could only be seen under a microscope have the capacity to decontaminate hundreds of gallons of freshwater at a time. It was thanks to Dr. Pirbazari’s research in this area which inspired me to pursue research of me own. This summer I will be at UC-Berkeley participating in a REU focused on “Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure” and it is all due to the knowledge I have gained while at USC!
I have learned so much throughout just two years as a student at Viterbi, and am certain that the next two years are not going to disappoint. I like to think that we environmental engineers are like the microbes helping clean up contaminated sites, we may seem like a small force but we are sure to change the world, for the better.
Indeed I once studied with a civil engineer who after graduation became interested in water and waste water treatment. He dug in his heels and soon had a few patents to his name. One of them I remember vividly because he ran a demonstration in his bathtub (not to everyone’s amusement …) where he proved that if one would allow bacteria in these treatment plants to grow up over several generations (thousands) then they would be more and more able to break down even the most harmful substances in the sewage. So he experimented with floating balls with holes in them, exactly the weight of the water, so they stayed submersed, but did not sink to the bottom, then in these “refugee camps” bacteria strains were developing that would otherwise not stay long enough in place but be flushed out by the water flow. It greatly improved water treatment capacity and I began to understand how many microbes can do better work than we, so far at least, could hope to mimic via technology!