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Jennifer McElhoe,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: Pennsylvania State University
Graduate Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Technology (GREATT)
URL: http://csats.psu.edu/GREATT/

Thesis Title: Bioremediation of Trichloroethene Using Chitin as a Nutrient and Electron Donor Source, and the use of Molecular Tools to Assess Indigenous Reductive Dechlorination Potential for Site Characterization
College/University: Pennsylvania State University

Research Advisor: Rachel Brennan

Degree Sought

University Department and/or Lab
Department of Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Kappe Environmental Engineering Lab

Research Focus
I am focusing on the enhancement of in situ bioremediation for sites contaminated with Trichloroethene (TCE), a chemical used as an industrial degreaser in the automotive and metal fabrication industries.

Description of Research
My research has centered on the enhancement of in situ bioremediation for sites contaminated with Trichloroethene (TCE). TCE, a chemical used as an industrial degreaser in the automotive and metal fabrication industries, is a prevalent contaminant found in groundwater. An efficient and cost-effective remediation technology for subsurface environments contaminated with TCE is an area of great need. The technique being evaluated involves adding an electron donor (chitin) into the subsurface to accelerate natural degradation processes. Chitin is a polymer found in the shells of crabs and other arthropods. A continuous-flow column study is being conducted to investigate how slow-release substrate chitin affects the complex chemical and microbiological factors present in subsurface environments. The results of these experiments will provide unique contributions to the literature, and could lead ultimately to increased success in the application of enhanced bioremediation at sites contaminated with chlorinated solvents.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
I have had the opportunity to work with Bedford High School which has curriculum in place that emphasizes environmental science. Throughout the year, I share my expertise in environmental engineering with 9th graders through activities on acid rain, alternative energy (i.e., wind and solar power), groundwater filtration, hydrogen fuel cells, global warming, and recycling paper. These activities not only introduce environmental issues and background information, but may also pique student interest leading them to pursue the field of environmental engineering in their college careers.

The end of the year culminates in exposure to the college experience through a field trip to Penn State. The students tour the university’s Center for Sustainability (an education program focusing on green design architecture and engineering technologies and practices), Waste Water Treatment Plant, and the garage housing the Hybrid Vehicle designed by the Penn State Challenge X team. Through the NSF GK-12 program, I’m able to personify an environmental engineer, share my area of research and passion, and involve the teacher and students to unique activities as well as giving them a “taste” of different university programs in the field of engineering.

Profile date: September 2007
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