Six rate of environmental decline continues. My

Six years later, I am still able to vividly recall the towering smoke stacks, garbage
infested water canals, and odors from burning mountains of trash as I rode in a rickshaw through
New Delhi, India. What was most alarming to me, however, was my father’s assurance that
India’s environment was in no such crisis when he emigrated from the country just two decades
prior. I am truly terrified to imagine the future state of our planet if the current rate of
environmental decline continues. My trip to India, along with many of my undergraduate
experiences, has provided me with the determination to mitigate environmental harm by being at
the forefront of environmental technology. Ultimately, I would like to assume a research oriented
career and have thus decided to pursue a doctorate degree in environmental engineering.
With the complexity of environmental issues growing, collaboration amongst several
scientific disciplines is required to determine effective solutions. As a recent chemical
engineering graduate, I possess a wide set of engineering and scientific skills. The University of
Illinois’ chemical engineering curriculum is comprehensive and challenging, having supplied me
with a solid foundation in areas such as chemistry, physics, mass transfer, fluid mechanics,
chemical reaction engineering, and thermodynamics. Due to my inclination towards an
environmental specialization, I also completed “Environmental Engineering” and “Water Quality
Engineering” as elective courses. These courses provided me with knowledge on topics like
contaminant fate and transport, waste management, and wastewater treatment design.
Additionally, I studied “Nuclear Power Engineering” and “Wind Power Systems” to gain
exposure to cleaner energy sources. My undergraduate coursework effectively exposed me to the
synergy of chemical and environmental engineering, and I am eager to apply and build upon my
knowledge of these subjects through advanced studies and research.
My passion for environmental applications has been confirmed through several work
experiences. In the summer of 2015, my internship with IOI Loders Croklaan exemplified the
challenges of achieving environmental sustainability targets in industry. Loders, being a palm oil
manufacturing company, naturally prioritized production over sustainability. As a result, the
company was faced with rapidly dropping aquifer levels. My project goal was to decrease
aquifer water consumption by recycling treated process wastewater to various applications
around the plant. While scoping out applications for water reuse, I was continuously disturbed by
the quantity of water being utilized, and in many areas, wasted. I was able to successfully design
a system within budget to reduce plant water consumption by 10%. Though it was rewarding to
know my first applied engineering project would provide some environmental relief, I still
craved to make a substantially larger impact.
Upon speaking with my advisors and course instructors, I realized that researching the
gaps in environmental technologies would provide me the opportunity to make the largest impact
towards remediation. I was able to gain invaluable undergraduate research experience by
working with Prof. Roland Cusick. My research project was focused on the development of a
novel technology for phosphorus recovery in wastewater treatment plants. My goal was to
examine the viability of utilizing a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) cathode as a method of
alkali generation to promote struvite crystallization in a fluidized bed reactor (FBR). Combining
principles of electrochemistry, fluid dynamics, reactor design, microbiology, and mass transfer, this project allowed me to fully appreciate the complexity of environmental engineering
research. I designed and constructed a bench-scale MEC-FBR system, grew and maintained the
microbial culture, and performed various electrochemical techniques to characterize system
performance. My data was able to demonstrate that the utilization of an MEC for pH regulation
could allow up to eight times cost savings as compared to traditional chemical addition. By
utilizing a current rectifier to apply a pulsed waveform, I was also able to exhibit potential for
cathode scaling prevention, a challenge that has prevented continuous steady state operation of
an MEC-FBR system. I was excited to discover that my research efforts were considerable
enough for the EPA to fund a second phase pilot plant study. My ability to excel in my
undergraduate research, despite its complexity, is a strong indication of my potential to succeed
at the graduate level. I have also recently accepted a position as a research assistant with
Argonne National Laboratory’s Energy Systems group. I will be assisting in the synthesis and
scale-up of more efficient cathode materials for Li-ion batteries. This experience will certainly
further prepare me for graduate research.
A primary area of interest for my graduate research is in the separation and recovery of
resources from waste streams. Through my internship and research experiences I have witnessed
how poor management of waste streams has led to detrimental effects and scarcity of essential
resources. An additional area I am interested in is the innovation and improvement of water
desalination and purification technologies. My senior capstone project on seawater desalination
introduced me to many of the barriers of current desalination techniques, and thus sparked my
interest in the topic. Having personally seen the effects of water stress in developing countries, I
would find it exceptionally fulfilling to be involved in making drinking water more globally
Yale University’s Environmental Engineering graduate program would be an ideal fit for
my research interests. Equipped with world-class faculty and facilities, the education and training
I would receive from this program would be unparalleled. Specifically, I would prefer to work
with Dr. Menachem Elimelech and Dr. Julie Zimmerman. Dr. Elimelech’s investigation of
nanoparticles and membranes for low energy water desalination perfectly aligns with my
research goals. Dr. Zimmerman’s focus on novel technology development for developing
countries would also be valuable towards my research goals. I am confident that my strong
chemical and environmental engineering background, research experience, and self motivated
attitude will allow me to succeed in Yale’s Environmental Engineering Ph.D. program.


I'm Dana!

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