Research

RICHLAND, Wash. – WSU Tri-Cities and the U.S. Department of Energy will hold their second lecture as part of a new series on the Hanford Site from 3-4 p.m. Thursday, April 27, in the East Auditorium on campus. This presentation will focus on the Hanford Site’s radioactive tank waste, which has become the site’s greatest challenge.

Single- and double-shell tanks
river protection logo Sahid Smith, lead engineer for the Low-Activity Waste Pretreatment System Project at the DOE Office of River Protection, will deliver the lecture. His lecture will cover how the single and double-shell radioactive waste tanks were constructed, in addition to the complex combination of 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste taking the physical form of sludge, salts and liquids that all have varying combinations of chemical properties.

Smith began his DOE career at the Richland Operations Office in 2007 as a general engineer, where he worked on the K-Basin Closure Project focusing primarily on the Sludge Treatment Project. He completed several rotational assignments in the Environmental Management Professional Development Corps Program in 2008, including assignments at the Oak Ridge Operation Office and Environmental Management Headquarters. Smith joined DOE’s Office of River Protection in October 2014. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in chemical engineering from Florida A&M University.

Linking to DOE

The DOE and its contractors are actively recruiting interns and staff in a broad scope of professional and technical jobs. Linking DOE operations with faculty, students and the community, this series focuses on opportunities and key challenges to be solved by today’s and tomorrow’s workers.

The lecture will be broadcast live at WSU Pullman, WSU Vancouver, WSU North Puget Sound at Everett and WSU Spokane via the campus AMS video streaming service.

 

Media Contacts:

By Maegan Murray

A team from Washington State University Tri-Cities placed 17th recently during the SAE Aero Design Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

WSU Tri-Cities - SAE Aero Design Competition

The WSU Tri-Cities mechanical engineering team poses with the airplane they designed and competed with at the SAE Aero Design Competition.

The team, composed of senior mechanical engineering students Erik Zepeda, Austin Shaw, Ryan Hagins, Matt Kosmos, Arich Fuher and Jose Espinoza, spent five months designing and constructing their airplane. The plane spanned seven feet long and had a wing span of eight feet.

The team said they chose a different design from WSU Tri-Cities teams who competed in years prior, and that their design was also different from many teams competing.

“Most of the other designs were pretty square, but we wanted to go with a more aerodynamic shape,” Shaw said. “We got numerous compliments on the design of our plane.”

During the competition, the team had a very successful first flight, placing fourth in the first round. During their second flight, however, the team had some electrical problems, which they weren’t able to remedy mid-air and the aircraft crashed.

“Even with that crash, we ended up placing 10th in the flight category,” Shaw said. “If we hadn’t crashed, we probably could have placed in the top five teams. That was disappointing, but everything else went really well.”

In addition to their 17th overall placing, the team placed 23rd in regular class design, 22nd in regular class presentation and 18th in regular class most payload transported.SAE Aero Design Competition - Spring 2017

All of the team members said despite their disappointing second flight, they all thoroughly enjoyed the design process, as well as the competition.

“It was a pretty cool experience, especially since it was our senior project,” said Zepeda. “I had never thought about aerospace engineering before, but now I’m thinking about it as a possible career direction.”

All the team members said the project presented them with excellent preparation for their future careers as engineers, regardless of the field of engineering they each go into.

“It definitely gives you good experience for taking on a large engineering project, as well as working with different people, scheduling, meeting deadlines and making presentations in front of judges,” Fuher said.

SAE Aero Design Competition - Spring 2017The design project was part of a senior capstone course taught by Messiha Saad, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of mechanical engineering and faculty adviser for the campus’ SAE Aero Design team. Saad said the competition provides the opportunity for his students to learn the mechanics and importance of teamwork, project organization, scheduling, system and product design, product testing, cost analysis and project reporting.

“Through this design project and competition, my students are able to demonstrate and develop their engineering skills set in a real-world environment with real deadlines and stiff competition,” he said. “I am very proud that my students demonstrated the ability to successfully compete with students from some of the top-rated engineering programs in the country.”

By Kaury Baucom, Viticulture & Enology

RICHLAND, Wash. – Connor Eck, a senior at Washington State University Tri-Cities originally from Del Mar, Calif., has been named a national Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, a Boston-based nonprofit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education.

The fellowship provides learning and networking opportunities to teach students leadership and how to bring communities together for positive change. As a student winemaker in WSU’s Blended Learning program, Eck worked with local growers and winemakers to develop leadership skills, gain hands-on experience and exercise environmentally friendly winemaking practices.

“I aim to find a way to limit the amount of water used in the farming of grapes and during the winemaking process, while still producing a high-quality product,” he said.

“The cultivation of community-committed leaders has never been more crucial,” said Andrew Seligsohn, Campus Compact president. “Our country needs more people who know how to bring communities together.”

The fellowship, named for Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman, chose 273 students for the 2017 cohort. It is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.
News media contact:
Kaury Balcom, WSU viticulture and enology communications, 509-327-7223, kaury.balcom@wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – A team from Washington State University Tri-Cities took third place among 21 teams at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge’s finals this week for their creation and business model presentation of a technology that converts lignin, a natural byproduct of plant-based materials, into biojet fuel.

Photo courtesy: Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship
Libing Zhang talks with people at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

During the challenge, interdisciplinary student teams define an environmental problem, develop a solution, design and build a prototype, create a business plan that proves their solution has market potential and pitches their idea to 170 judges from throughout the Northwest who have expertise in cleantech, as well as to entrepreneurs and inventors, at a demo-day event.

The WSU Tri-Cities team, composed of postdoctoral researcher Libing Zhang and Manuel Seubert, a master’s in business administration student, advanced to the finals from an initial pool of 29 teams during the first round of the competition.

Paul Skilton, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of management, and Bin Yang, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of biological systems engineering, advised the team. The WSU Tri-Cities team also worked regularly with researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to prepare for the competition.

The team was presented with the Starbucks $5,000 prize for their third-place ranking in the final round of the competition.

Advancing biofuels

Zhang, team leader for the challenge, said the main benefits for their technology is that it takes lignin, a waste

Photo courtesy: Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship
Manuel Seubert presents at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

product in the biorefineries and pulping process that is considered one of the most abundant renewable carbon sources on Earth, and turns it into an environmentally-friendly, cheap jet fuel that can potentially reduce the carbon emissions for commercial airlines.

“I see several advantages of the technology and hope we can scale it up for commercialization, which will help commercial airlines to achieve their goals in reducing greenhouse emissions,” she said.

Developing a commercial product

Seubert, team co-leader for the challenge, said their goal with the competition was to capture people’s attention for the value of their technology, while using the experience as a learning opportunity for their future in developing the lignin-based jet fuel product into a commercial business.

“The next challenge is to secure funding so that we can scale it up to an industrial scale,” he said. “We are

Libing Zhang displays a container of lignin

Photo courtesy: Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship
Libing Zhang displays a container of lignin

actively looking for funding sources at this point and are thinking about establishing a limited liability company, which will allow us to pursue small business grants.”

Zhang said raising awareness about the product was a crucial part of the competition experience.

“We want people to know that the technology for converting lignin to biojet fuel has a commercial value,” she said. “It is encouraging knowing that people care about the technology and see its potential for reducing the carbon footprint. Now, we hope to take the technology to the next level in the business world.”

Zhang is also the entrepreneurial lead on a National Science Foundation I-Corps lignin-to-biojetfuel project, which was awarded to Yang and his team.

Skilton said the project represents an excellence illustration of the cutting-edge, hands-on programming students experience at WSU Tri-Cities.

“This is an example of the kind of integrated project team work our MBA students come to WSU Tri-Cities to do,” he said.

The Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge is the creation of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship in the Foster School of Business, in partnership with the University of Washington’s College of Engineering, College of the Environment, Clean Energy Institute, College of Built Environments and the Department of Biology.

Contacts:

Libing Zhang, WSU Tri-Cities recent doctoral graduate and postdoctoral researcher, libing.zhang@wsu.edu

Manuel Seubert, WSU Tri-Cities master’s in business administration student, manuel.seubert@wsu.edu

Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333, maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy to host a new lecture series focusing on the Hanford Site and the DOE’s current and future missions at the site.

The kick-off lecture covers the history of Hanford and begins at 3 p.m. March 27 in West Building room 256 at WSU Tri-Cities. Students, faculty and the community are welcome for the presentation.

As a large percentage of the current workforce becomes eligible for retirement in the next five years, the DOE and its contractors are actively recruiting interns and staff in a broad scope of professional and technical jobs. Linking DOE operations with faculty, students, and the community, this series focuses on opportunities and key challenges to be solved by today’s and tomorrow’s workers.

Carrie Meyer, director of public affairs for the DOE’s Office of River Protection, will present during the first lecture on March 27. She joined the Office of River Protection in 2007 and has 23 years of experience in communications, marketing, information management and public affairs in government, engineering and nuclear power industries. She has completed assignments for the assistant secretary of energy for environmental management and the secretary of energy, focusing on congressional interactions, policy, tribal nation engagement and communications.

The lecture on March 27 will be broadcast live at WSU Pullman, WSU Vancouver, WSU North Puget Sound at Everett and WSU Spokane via the campus AMS video streaming service.

For more information, contact Tish Christman at 509-372-7683.

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Researchers at Washington State University Tri-Cities and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have found a new way to define the molecular structure of cellulose, which could lead to cheaper and more efficient ways to make a variety of crucial bioproducts.

For the first time, researchers revealed the differences between the surface layers and the crystalline core of cellulose by combining spectroscopy processes that use infrared and visible laser beams to analyze the structure of molecular components. The findings appear this month in Scientific Reports, an online open-access journal produced by the Nature Publishing Group (http://www.nature.com/articles/srep44319).

The spectroscopy processes are known as Total Internal Reflection Sum Frequency Generation Vibrational Spectroscopy (TIR-SFG-VS) and conventional SFG-VS.

Making biofuels, bioproducts cost-competitive

Bin Yang, co-author and WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of biological systems engineering, said cellulose is one of the most abundant organic compounds on Earth. Understanding the cellulosic biomass recalcitrance, or resistance to degradation, at the molecular level is a key step toward overcoming the fundamental barrier to making cellulosic biofuels cost-competitive, he said.

“Cellulose is commonly known as a product that is difficult to break down and convert into other useful products,” said co-author Hongfei Wang, former chief scientist in the physical sciences division at PNNL and current professor of chemistry at Fudan University in Shanghai. “Using our nonlinear vibrational spectroscopic technique, we can resolve some questions associated with the recalcitrance of cellulosic biomass and, in turn, more efficiently convert the product into a usable commodity.”

Yang said that although plant cell walls are complex and dynamic, recent advances in analytical chemistry and genomics have substantially enhanced understanding of cellulosic biomass recalcitrance while simultaneously highlighting the remaining knowledge gaps.

Understanding structure opens industrial possibilities

“This discovery is significant because it not only challenges the traditional understanding of cellulose materials, it provides further insight into the surface and bulk chemistry of cellulosic fibers, building on a novel spectroscopic tool to characterize such structural differences,” said Arthur J. Ragauskas, Governor’s Chair in biorefining for Oak Ridge National Laboratory and at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is an expert on the subject, but not involved in the research.

He said the discovery of the nonuniformity and the structure of cellulose in the study can improve the efficiency of industrial application of cellulose.

“The discovery may lead to modification of the current definitions of the different types of cellulose structures,” he said. “This discovery represents yet another instance of the importance of spectroscopic observations in transformative advances to understand the structure of the cellulosic biomass.”

Libing Zhang

Libing Zhang, co-author and postdoctoral researcher at WSU Tri-Cities, called it a privilege to participate in such a significant discovery while utilizing such advanced technology, especially knowing that it could have a profound impact on the advancement of bioproducts.

“We can use the application of this technology to fundamentally understand the conversion process of nearly every cellulose-based product in the future,” she said.

Researchers at WSU and the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at PNNL collaborated on the study. Yang’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Young Faculty Award and the SFG capability and expertise at EMSL, an Office of Science user facility of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the U.S. Department of Energy, made the study possible. It is DOI:10.1038/srep44319.

Zhang, Yang, Li Fu, a William Wiley Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow formerly at EMSL, and Wang conducted the research.

 

News media contacts:
Bin Yang, WSU Tri-Cities biological systems engineering, 509-372-640, binyang@tricity.wsu.edu
John Nicksich, EMSL communications, 509-375-7398, john.nicksich@pnnl.gov
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations, 509-372-333, maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

Before LIGO announced that it had made its second-ever observance of gravitational waves last year, further proving Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, Daniel Cain was one of the few who already knew.

Cain, an engineering student at Washington State University Tri-Cities, took on an internship experience at LIGO Hanford last summer where he worked with engineers in

WSU Tri-Cities student Daniel Cain

WSU Tri-Cities student Daniel Cain

radio frequency technology. He spent the summer building devices that would help filter and decipher radio waves, which would help prevent interferences and disruptions with equipment that had a larger role in the gravitational wave detection technology.

LIGO made their second gravitation wave detection on Dec. 26, 2015, but it wasn’t until July 15, 2016, that they made the detection public. A large part of the gap in time, Cain said, is that scientists must sort through a multitude of data to ensure that their detections are accurate and that they hadn’t picked up a false positive from another source.

While Cain’s internship experience didn’t deal specifically with the gravitational wave detection technology, it still had an impact on safeguarding the equipment that will continue to be crucial in the whole effort.

“While the radio waves don’t interfere with gravity waves themselves, they interfere with other electrical equipment, such as the laser controls,” he said. “My job was to help them make sure that radio interference doesn’t affect their detections.”

Cain will present his project at WSU’s Academic Showcase from 9 a.m. – noon March 27 in the Compton Union Building at WSU Pullman.

Preventing disruption

Cain said in order for scientists and engineers to detect gravitational waves at the facility, they use a number of very sensitive, very sophisticated instruments that detail intricate waves that, until 2015, had never been physically observed. Cain said the lasers used to detect the waves, which require a vacuum-sealed environment, also necessitate a range of equipment that prevent and decipher between even the slightest of environmental factors, which could lead to a false positive.

“The moon passing around the earth causes the earth’s crust to flex,” Cain said. “It changes the shape enough that they have to worry about it being a disruption to their monitoring equipment. The scientists and engineers at LIGO have to monitor a lot of environmental factors, from wind, to seismic activity, to even spring runoff from the mountains.”

Similar disruptions could occur with other vital equipment at the facility.

Cain said what they wanted him to create was a circuit that would take the output of their radio receivers and tell LIGO engineers how strong radio waves were in a way that could be turned into a digital number that they could easily read and categorize. Knowing the radio signal strength would help them eliminate false positives.

A learning experience

Cain said the difficult part of his initial study and creation of radio monitoring equipment is that radio waves are so fast that normal circuits can’t rate them accurately.

“The tiny things that wouldn’t interfere with normal circuits, interfere with radio,” he said. “It makes the engineering problem more challenging.”

Additionally, he said, most radio wave-reading equipment use the logarithmic decibel scale, which is effective for increasing equipment range, but not so convenient in understanding what the wave is doing, exactly.

Part of a radio wave device that WSU Tri-Cities student Daniel Cain made for LIGO during his internship last summer

Part of a radio wave device that WSU Tri-Cities student Daniel Cain made for LIGO during his internship last summer.

“Almost all radio equipment is logarithmic, which is why they wanted my design to work because it wasn’t logarithmic,” he said. “It wasn’t absolutely necessary, but would have made their data processing a little easier.”

Cain created two prototypes, the first of which had a few design issues, which he corrected using new and modified materials. His second prototype worked, but its main issue was that it couldn’t pick up weaker radio signals.

“It became very accurate,” he said. “The output had to be between zero and two volts, and it was in the 90th percentile for accuracy. It could detect the higher-strength signals very well. But the tiny signals, which are weak and easily blocked, it didn’t detect very well.”

Cain ran out of time for his third prototype. He was successful, however, in modifying one of their established device designs to do what was asked of him, but it remained in logarithmic scale, which was still an issue. But his efforts were not all lost. One of Cain’s major feats came by accident in the final stages of creating one of his devices.

“I figured out that one of the antennas for their radio receivers was broken,” he said. “It isn’t something they are always watching, but it is something they have to check. They told me they probably wouldn’t have found out it was broken until they were about to look for gravitational waves for real, which would have forced them to reassign an engineer to fix the problem. They told me it was almost worth the whole summer finding that.”

Applying school to the real world

Cain said even though he ran into some issues during his internship and wished he would have more time to develop the technology, the learning process, alone, made the whole summer a worthwhile experience.

“I learned so much,” he said. “I put to use a lot of things that I learned in school and I had to learn a lot of things from scratch. The practical experience, alone, I would recommend to anyone in an engineering program.”

Daniel Cain, left, and engineering classmate

Daniel Cain, left, and a classmate work on a device during an engineering lab course.

Cain said the body of knowledge in engineering has grown to be so large that it is becoming not possible to teach a student everything they need to know during an undergraduate education.

“It is not really possible to bring an undergraduate to the level of knowledge of the industry, which is where things like internships come to play,” he said. “Having the experience this summer means that some of the mystique surrounding engineering is removed. That is one of the main reasons why internships and practical experience is so important. It gets you out of the school mindset and into the real-world mindset.”

Cain said it was also incredibly rewarding to work with world-renowned engineers that have truly made a mark in history, but at the same time, are as down to earth as the next person. They were always willing to “help out the ultra noob,” he said with a laugh.

“The engineers were all really nice,” he said. “They all took pity on me as the new guy, helped answer my questions and offer their advice. They were all quick to help explain things that you wouldn’t normally learn in school, but that everyone else knows in the industry. That was the most valuable part.”

By Maegan Murray

Stemming from his background growing up in Ethiopia, Yonas Demissie views water as a commodity more valuable than oil.

In the nation of more than 94 million people, just 42 percent have access to clean water in Ethiopia. That is why the WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering has directed his research efforts toward the monitoring, exploration and evaluation of the resource that is vital in sustaining life.

Yonas Demissie, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, reviews data pertaining to his research in water-related issues.

“Here in the U.S., we take water for granted,” Demissie said. “Our daily water use here is as much as 10 times than that of a person in other countries where water is in limited supply.”

Demissie said he has personally never experienced not having access to clean water, because he grew up in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa where infrastructure is more advanced than other parts of the nation. But that doesn’t mean the issue doesn’t hit close to home.

“I may have grown up in the city, but the water scarcity issue and famine in the country are regular news,” he said. “It always bothered me to see images of starving children. There is no excuse for a child to get hungry. As a society, we should all be responsible for that. I want my research in water to be my contribution to society. Water is a very critical resource that needs to be accessible, protected and properly managed.”

Demissie is currently working on a myriad of research projects at WSU Tri-Cities that focus on various aspects of water-related issues.

“In terms of overall impact, any study on understanding and properly managing water resources is key,” he said.

Climate research on Department of Defense facilities

Demissie is currently half-way through a four-year project studying the impact of climate change on military infrastructure, focusing specifically on whether defense infrastructure and facilities could handle increased flooding and abnormal increases and fluctuations in precipitation. His research is funded as part of a $1 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Yonas Demissie, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and his research team at WSU Tri-Cities.

“DOD has many facilities across the globe and many of those installations are close to coastal areas,” he said. “They are worried about sea level rise, increased extreme storms and how that will affect their facilities and operations. Our research is to assess flooding risk with the DOD facilities’ existing storm water management system and whether it is sufficient or needs to be upgraded.”

Demissie said when there is an increase in the temperature, there is an increase in the atmosphere’s ability to hold more water, which increases the chance of heavy rainfall. He said he and his team are currently analyzing the historical climate data to see if precipitation has increased over the years, whether storms now last longer and whether there has been an increase in the intensity, frequency and duration of the precipitation.

A change in precipitation caused by climate change and/or other factors, Demissie said, could also have drastic impacts in other areas such as agriculture.

“In our regions, for example, how snowfall on the Cascade Mountains is going to be affected due to climate change will be an important issue in determining future agriculture productions,” he said. “Even though the total amount of annual precipitation may not be affected, there may be a shift in when that precipitation may occur.”

Instead of most of the precipitation occurring in the winter and early spring, as it is now, Demissie said it may occur mostly in winter, or even in the fall. He said farmers may not have the water when they need it for their crops and that the timing shift could have a significant negative effect.

In a similar study funded by the state’s water center, Demissie recently completed evaluating and updating decades-old design standards used to construct water related infrastructure, such as culverts, bridges and dams, for all the counties in Washington state.

Additionally, he and his team were also recently awarded funding from the state’s water center to study drought characteristics in the Yakima basin and to evaluate effectiveness of a $4 billion water management plan currently under consideration for tackling drought in the region.

“Climate change is one of our generation’s major issues that we are going to have to deal with,” he said.

Reducing effects of nitrates and phosphors stemming from biofuels industry on Gulf of Mexico

Researchers are making significant strides in the biofuels industry, creating fuels for jet airplanes, cars and more that help reduce the United States’ carbon footprint. WSU is leading the industry in research for biofuels with its Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA). But increases in the crops in the Midwest required to make certain biofuels may be having a damaging effect on ecosystems in the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.

Sediment in the Gulf of Mexico – Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Demissie is studying the impact of increased nitrates and phosphors from farming practices related to the biofuels industry in Midwest on the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, and how they can minimize those issues.

“In the Midwest, they are making biofuels from corn, which requires increased nitrogen and phosphors applications, which end up in the streams,” he said. “Increased nitrate and phosphors lead to algal bloom, which eventually prevents vegetation and fish from growing in lakes and other water bodies.”

Demissie said increased algae prevents the natural process of photosynthesis from happening in the water as the sun can’t reach the lower levels and life essentially ceases from occurring. Because the Gulf of Mexico is connected to the Midwest through the Mississippi River, those nitrates and phosphors run directly into the gulf, causing algae bloom that currently covers areas as large as Connecticut and Rhode Island, combined.

“The Gulf of Mexico is one of the important regions for fishing,” he said. “We are growing more corn in the Midwest to meet demands of biofuels, but at the same time, we could end up killing an important industry downstream. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Monitoring groundwater contamination at Hanford

Hanford B Reactor building

Hanford B Reactor building

Since he started at WSU Tri-Cities in 2012, Demissie has consistently worked with Hanford Site contractors and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff in monitoring and modeling the groundwater flow from the site to ensure there is no radiation and other toxic contamination with vital sources such as aquifers and reservoirs used for human daily water use.

Contamination from the Hanford Site stems back to the facilities’ production of plutonium from World War II and the Cold War. Chemicals were released, both planned and unplanned, into the soil around the site. Scientists have since worked to develop and improve upon models that are used to predict the flow, as well as determine which areas they should treat.

“We are consistently monitoring groundwater contamination for Hanford, using various monitoring and modeling projects to tell where it’s flowing and how fast it is traveling,” he said.

“We’re always working to improve methods and models for doing so,” he said. “We’ve made significant strides in reducing the contamination from those early years.”

Researching means to open access for Nile River

Demissie is presently working with a team of people to examine current flow patterns and allocations of the Nile River, and how they can more effectively be shared by all African countries associated with the river.

Map of the Nile River

Map of the Nile River – Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Nile River is the world’s longest river, flowing 6,700 kilometers through 10 countries in eastern Africa, where water is mostly scarce. Demissie said any water project in the upstream tributaries of the Nile has been under political contention, as countries like Egypt and Sudan use the river as their main source of water and electric power generation.

Ethiopia, where 80-90 percent of the Nile water originates, historically was not using the river despite being hit by regular famines caused by highly variable rainfall in the region. However, Ethiopia is now constructing the largest dam in Africa on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River, for electric power generation. Political officials in Egypt are worried that it would limit their access to the river, which they said they have a natural right to two-thirds of the resource, as indicated in The Nile Waters Agreement that was signed in 1959, which Ethiopia never signed.

Demissie and his colleagues Gabriel Senay, Naga Manohar Velpuri, Stefanie Bohms and Mekonne Gebremichael completed a study in 2014 that integrated satellite data and modeling to detail the variability of water sources in the Nile Basin. Their study revealed that about 85 percent of runoff generated in the equatorial region (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda) is lost along the river pathway that includes the Sudd wetlands, which has an area approximately twice the size of Maryland. This proportion is higher than the literature reported loss of 50 percent.

In addition, their study found that the expected average annual Nile flow at the Aswan Dam in Egypt is 13 cubic kilometers greater than the reported amount of 84 cubic kilometers originally reported. Demissie said that means there is a flow amount that equates to more than half of Colorado River of water each year that was not accounted for during the 1959 water agreement.

Demissie said the loss in runoff and flow volume at different sections of the Nile River, however, tend to be more than what can be explained by evaporation losses, suggesting a potential recharge to deeper aquifers that are not connected to the Nile channel systems. He said the study indicated the need for increased instrumentation detailing the hydrometeorology of the basin.

“Our knowledge regarding water availability in the Nile Basin and how much and where water is lost in the system is limited,” he said. “But our analysis shows that we get more water into the system than what was originally estimated. There is extra water that Ethiopia can use.”

Demissie said he hopes his group’s initial research will lead to bigger developments in assessing the direction, flow and amount of water from the Nile, which could lead to positive legislation among the African countries that may help lead to an agreement that would benefit all.

“Having a good understanding of water as a resource and coming up with a better management strategy I believe is critical for most societies,” he said.

By Maegan Murray

Demi Galindo, a master’s student at Washington State University Tri-Cities, recently received a call that would change the course of her life.

She had been accepted to medical school. Better yet, she had received a tuition waiver for her four years of medical education, with the exception of two semesters during her third and fourth years – an acceptance package that is incredibly rare.

“Most people will tell you to not expect to get these, so I feel incredibly grateful to have received this package,” she said.

At WSU Tri-Cities, Galindo maintained a 3.8 grade-point average as a pre-medical student. After graduating last spring, she took on the incredibly difficult task of earning a master’s degree from WSU Tri-Cities in biological sciences in a single year, which she plans to have completed by the end of this spring semester. But it was the research opportunity and mentorship from a WSU Tri-Cities professor that she said truly set her apart from other applicants.

In her junior year as an undergraduate, Elly Sweet, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of biology, approached Galindo about a research opportunity that not only would give her a leg up on her competition for medical school, but also had ties back to medicine.

Mentorship leads to opportunity

Sweet is one of many mentors participating in WSU Tri-Cities’ Million Women Mentors program. Through the program, female students are paired up with female mentors who are successful in related fields. Sweet currently mentors approximately 80 students in the general biological sciences, both male and female, of which many are pre-health students.

“Dr. Sweet has done a lot for me in my undergraduate years, from being an excellent teacher for medical school prerequisite classes, which is how we met in my human physiology class,” Galindo said. “Throughout the semester, I could come to her for questions regarding class materials. During one of our meetings, she mentioned the chance to do research in Dr. Jim Cooper’s lab, which I was not even aware of prior to this.”

Through the research opportunity, Galindo worked under the direction of Cooper and Sweet studying the effect that the over and under abundance of thyroid hormone has on zebrafish jaw formation, of which they hope to use for advancements in human health in the future.

“We’re trying to determine what is causing these changes in the development of the fish, which may be translated to learning more about human skull deformities in humans,” Galindo said.

Using own mentorship experience to lead students to greatness

Sweet said she had a mentor while she completed her schooling, and that it served as a tremendous asset. Her mentor, Diana Darnell, mentored her while she was an undergraduate.

“She was an amazing biology professor,” Sweet said. “I worked as an undergraduate researcher in her lab where I had my first exposure to the world of developmental biology research. Dr. Darnell was not only an excellent professor; she was always there for her students outside the classroom.

“I valued her presence and guidance throughout my undergraduate years. Ultimately, she led me to my first job and graduate school in developmental biology,” she said.

Sweet said what is most rewarding about serving as a mentor, herself, for the biological sciences is that she can help students pursue their passions. She said she is relatively new to the role, and that her first main group of students she’s mentoring is graduating and getting accepting into medical schools this year.

“Students first come to my intro to biology classes as shy freshmen trying to find their place,” she said. “They are hard-working students from a variety of backgrounds. By their senior year, they are eager and ready for their next steps beyond WSU Tri-Cities. I enjoy helping them pursue their dreams.”

Looking toward the future

In addition to directing her toward her research experience, Galindo said Sweet helped her with academic planning, gave her advice in the application process for medical school and was overall a great person to talk to when she was feeling stressed.

“Overall, she has just been a great person to turn to and I can be straightforward with her since she knows me so well,” she said.

Galindo said she encourages students to start conversations with their professors because, especially at a smaller campus like WSU Tri-Cities, the one-on-one connection and support is immensely valuable.

“Students may not know where to turn to for advice on this whole process, so I advocate for getting involved in extracurriculars and don’t be afraid to talk to your professors,” she said. “I think some of my success came from the fact that I just went and talked to my professors and was noticed for this with such small class sizes. The opportunities just started to expose themselves.”

Galindo will start medical school this August. From there, she said she is thinking about a career in family medicine or neurology.

“I think because of the diverse cases and schedule of family med, this is where I will most-likely end up,” she said. “I would like to have a joint practice with several other physicians as this will give me the flexibility to have a family, too.”

Galindo said she hopes to stay humble with her aspirations, while providing the best quality of care possible.

“I want to be a physician that people in my community know for having excellent care, as well as a physician that will listen to them and be on their team when it comes to their health,” she said.

For more information about WSU Tri-Cities’ role with Million Women Mentors and how to get involved, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/mwm/. For more information about the organization, itself, visit https://www.millionwomenmentors.org.

By Maegan Murray

Once a month, a class of 12 education students at Washington State University Tri-Cities welcomes more than 20 clients from The Arc of Tri-Cities where all eat lunch with one another, interact socially, as well as play games and complete crafts.

peer-lunch-club-6The effort is part of the university’s new peer lunch club, which pairs the education students with several individuals with disabilities as a means to develop friendships, as well as to develop one another’s’ social and professional skills.

“My manager told me that WSU Tri-Cities students were wanting to learn more about and get to know the people in our community at The Arc,” Arc VIP Coordinator BreAnna Vaughn said. “For my guys, this is a great way for them to make some friends and get to know people outside of their families and outside from us at The Arc. The benefit for the students at WSU Tri-Cities is that they get to know people in this community and learn how they can help these individuals prosper in their future roles as teachers.”

As an organization, The Arc of Tri-Cities assists persons with developmental disabilities in choosing and realizing where and how they learn, live, work and play. The WSU Tri-Cities peer lunch club provides an added opportunity for Arc clients to bond and socialize with individuals in a college setting while WSU Tri-Cities students have the opportunity to get to know a group of individuals whose learning challenges may be peer-lunch-club-1unfamiliar to them.

“I believe it is a good experience for our students who are in education because nowadays, with current trends in inclusive education, they will have students with disabilities in their classroom,” said Yun-Ju Hsiao, an assistant professor of special education at WSU Tri-Cities and co-organizer of the lunch club. “It provides our students with a good start in learning how to interact with these individuals and what strategies will work best for their learning, in addition to allowing them to make some new friends.”

Value added for all

The Arc participants said they love being able to come WSU Tri-Cities as they are making new friends while participating in hands-on activities. During their last lunch club meeting, the group made paper snowflakes, which they used to decorate The Arc facility for the holiday season.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Arc client Grady Horvath said. “I’ve made lots of friends so far.”

Arc client Spencer Pidcock said his favorite parts of the experience have been bonding with his new friends over common interests such as movies, of which his favorite are from the Fast and the Furious franchise. He said also enjoys the activities they’ve completed with the WSU Tri-Cities students.

“It’s been really fun,” he said. “Making the snowflakes has probably been one of my favorite activities so far.”

peer-lunch-club-2WSU Tri-Cities students said they have enjoyed the opportunity, not only because they have been able to put some of the skills they’re learning at WSU Tri-Cities to use in working with individuals with developmental disabilities, but also because they are developing close friendships.

“It is like an eye-opener because you see people with disabilities and you generally don’t know how to act with them at first,” WSU Tri-Cities student Maria Admani said. “At first, it is kind of awkward, mainly because you’re putting this pressure on yourself to behave a certain way. But you start talking with them and you realize they are just like you. You have the same likes and dislikes. You don’t have to behave a specific way. They’re people like you and me.”

WSU Tri-Cities student Karli Korten said they’ve developed jokes with some of The Arc clients just as they would their closest friends growing up.

“I remember I brought up the Venus Razors commercials,” she said, referencing a conversation she was having with some of The Arc clients. “I started singing ‘I’m your Venus, I’m your fire,’ and Grady finished it with ‘Your desire.’ It was just so funny. We’re developing these friendships that we never would have had otherwise.”

Korten said as the lunches continue, they sit with the same people each lunch meet-up and that both groups become more and more comfortable with one another each time.

“We ask them questions about our previous activities, or about what is coming up new in their life and you realize they have the same thoughts about life and the same anxieties,” she said.

From social to professional

WSU Tri-Cities student Carrie Stewart said she will definitely use the experience in her future career as a teacher.peer-lunch-club-3

“I think it will help a lot,” she said. “To see individuals with disabilities in this environment, it is almost like a classroom environment. Knowing how to relate to them is a huge thing, as well as developing a personal relationship. This is a great way to allow us to learn how to build bonds, which will help us help them be successful in their own lives.”

Student Kimberlee Moon said they can also use the opportunity to improve the educational experience for all students.

“You get to know them just as you would any other kid in the classroom,” she said. “You can incorporate their interests just as you would any student. You may have to use different strategies, but those strategies you use for students with disabilities will also work for every student in the classroom.”