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UND sends first student team from North Dakota to participate in national EPA competition

by Patrick C. Miller

Posted on 4/23/2012

UND's P3 Team
Left to right: Robert Ducioame, Walhalla, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Shaina Strating, Devils Lake, N.D., a Ph.D. student in chemistry; Aaron Hanson, Williston, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Kali Shephard, Crystal, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Julia Zhao, project adviser and associate professor in chemistry; Nenny Fahruddin, Indonesia, master's in instructional design and technology; Jiao Chen, China, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry; and Xu Wu, China, a Ph.D. student in chemistry.
A team of student researchers from the University of North Dakota are the first from North Dakota to participate in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) annual People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Student Design Competition for Sustainability.

Last Friday, five students with project adviser Julia Zhao, associate professor in chemistry, flew to Washington, D.C., to attend the National Sustainable Design Expo. There, they will compete against 45 other schools from around the country in the EPA P3 event, began Saturday, April 21, and ends Monday, April 23.

Project leader of the seven-member team is Jiao Chen, China, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry. Other members are: Robert Ducioame, Walhalla, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Nenny Fahruddin, Indonesia, master's in instructional design and technology; Aaron Hanson, Williston, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Kali Shephard, Crystal, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Shaina Strating, Devils Lake, N.D., a Ph.D. student in chemistry; and Xu Wu, China, a Ph.D. student in chemistry. Chen, Fahruddin, Hanson, Shephard and Xu are making the trip to Washington.

The EPA describes P3 as "a unique college competition for designing solutions for a sustainable future. P3 offers students quality hands-on experience that brings their classroom learning to life."

The competition has two phases. In the first phase, teams are awarded a $15,000 grant to develop their idea. They then bring the design to the National Sustainable Design Expo to compete for the P3 Award and a grant of $90,000 to take their design to real-world application.

The UND team qualified for the second phase of the competition with a project that developed a biosensor for monitoring mercury pollution in natural water sources. They focused on the Red River of the North, which forms the border between North Dakota and Minnesota and flows north into Canada.

The sensor - based on a design by Wu - has demonstrated its ability to detect mercury at lower concentrations than the EPA standard. During the exposition, the team will display a poster detailing its project and will also make a 30-minute presentation to judges.

In addition to developing the sensor, UND's team members visited schools around the state - including the five tribal colleges in North Dakota - to educate students on the hazards of mercury in the environment.

"We're doing analysis on why mercury causes problems because North Dakota has coal-burning power plants that produce mercury emissions," Fahruddin said. "We need to educate people on the toxic effects of mercury on human health. There are simple things people can do to help at home to help, such as recycling batteries that contain mercury."

Shephard, a pre-med student focusing on biochemistry, said that what interested her about the project were the connections between the environment, healthcare and human health. It also gave her the opportunity to return to Crystal and teach some chemistry.

"It was fun to go back to the school in my hometown to see the teachers who taught me," she noted. "It was really a cool thing to show that after four years, I've really learned a lot. I received a great education at UND."

For Hanson, the competition is an opportunity to explore the interactions of his two major interests: science and politics.

"There's a lot of science and politics involved in how the EPA implements regulatory policy," he explained. "I'm really excited to go to Washington to see how these two worlds come together."

Strating views the project as a way to use science to help the public understand an environmental problem.

"It's about science and education, which means it's practical," she said. "A lot of what we learn is specific to chemistry. So it's nice to work on a project that has a wide audience. It was a good teaching experience."

Chen got involved with the project because it was a good fit with the research she's doing for her Ph.D. and now is looking forward expanding her research horizons.

"I've never been to Washington," she said. "I'm excited to meet other researchers and to explain the problems with mercury to the public."

Photo caption:
(Left to right) Robert Ducioame, Walhalla, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Shaina Strating, Devils Lake, N.D., a Ph.D. student in chemistry; Aaron Hanson, Williston, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Kali Shephard, Crystal, N.D., a senior in chemistry; Julia Zhao, project adviser and associate professor in chemistry; Nenny Fahruddin, Indonesia, master's in instructional design and technology; Jiao Chen, China, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry; and Xu Wu, China, a Ph.D. student in chemistry.

Contact:
Julia Zhao, associate professor
UND Department of Chemistry
701-777-3610
juila.zhao@und.edu

Patrick Miller, writer/editor
UND Office of University Relations
701-777-2412
patrick.miller@und.edu


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