Imagine you are on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt is circling around a box of pizza. Every time you get close enough, you take a slice of pizza. If the conveyor belt moves too fast, you can’t grab the pizza. But if it’s too slow, you’ll starve and the pizza won’t be nice and hot anymore and it might even start to grow mold. This is how the activated sludge process was explained to me in my first Environmental Engineering lecture many moons ago.
“UV radiation affects microorganisms by altering the DNA in the cells and impeding reproduction. UV treatment does not remove organisms from the water, it merely inactivates them.” – Water Research Center
For the longest time this summer I worked on a machine that performed persulfate-ultraviolet oxidation, but I really had no idea what it was. Looking at the machine, I could see that an oxygen tank and a beaker of persulfate solution were combining with my water samples and traveling through various tiny twisted tubes into a swirl of madness that then shot out in all directions and ended up in a scramble of numbers on the computer screen. So I asked around. Ten weeks of “asking around” later, and still all I knew was that somehow the glowing blue light was breaking down the carbon in my water samples and measuring its concentration.
On the left, persulfate-ultraviolet oxidation. On the right, SteriPEN technology. SteriPEN image found here.
The following was my submission to Kelly Engineering Services for an annual scholarship. Although I was not the winner, my essay had a strong message. I titled it: “On Water: The Social Complexities of a Simple Molecule”
Water surrounds us; it is in our showers and baths, it washes our hands, cooks our appetizers and entrée. With it, we continue living like nothing ever happened. Without it, the most basic forms of life could not exist. Although water encapsulates seventy percent of our planet, there are people struggling to find it. I believe that engineers have a responsibility to protect humanity; to share knowledge of technological advances with the world, and correct their mistakes in social and political aspects. As of late, issues such as the Flint water crisis and Porter Ranch methane leak reflect engineering at its worst in the US. However, I still hold true that engineers are capable of so much more.
For my friend James, running water is a soothing noise. For me, gushing water is the definition of aggravation. I can’t help but think of all the other uses for clean water besides going down the drain, while someone brushes their teeth in the mirror. But all this talk about water brings back a memory.