College of Science & Engineering Alumni Newsletter

Fall 2001

Environmental Engineering Laboratory

    On December 13, 2000, the new Environmental Engineering Laboratory located in Science 155 opened its doors to the campus community and off-campus professionals in an open house event to showcase the state of the art equipment and set-up stationed on its benches. This was an event to present the fruit of six years of resource investment by the college of Science and Engineering. Amongst those attending the Open House were students, faculty, Associate Dean, Dean and the University Administration, faculty from outside College of Science and Engineering such as Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA), representatives from US Environmental Protection Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, San Francisco Airport Environmental Control Division, City of San Francisco, and University of California Environmental Engineering Department. They all took tours of the facility.
    The guiding principle behind the design of this laboratory has been to develop, maintain, and continuously upgrade a facility that has state-of-the art equipment and meets the needs of the community in training students knowledgeable in both fundamental and cutting edge experimentation. Thus the lab is a work in progress! However, for many aspects of the laboratory design a close alliance was established with University of California at Berkeley, Environmental Engineering Department.
    This laboratory is designed to serve as a single place to conduct water and wastewater analysis and treatment. In this regard, it is unique amongst Bay Area University laboratories.
    The original design in 1994 started by Dr. Elahe Enssani, PE, faculty of Environmental Engineering. As a start, she contacted Bay Area Universities that have a strong Environmental Engineering Program. She evaluated the kinds of water quality laboratories they had available for instruction. A lot of thought went into design of the experiments and many pages were created of sketches of the experimental set-up, list of required equipment, numerous organic and inorganic chemicals, hundreds of various glassware, safety equipment, and most importantly, a location for the laboratory equipped with fume-hood, necessary plumbing with cold and hot water sink, 220 and 110 voltage lines, distilled water and safety features such as shower and eye wash, waste sink under the fume-hood, etc.  The task was enormous and many people supported the creation of what stands now in Science 155.
    The experiments are designed in a series of chemical analyses and procedures to examine the quality of water and wastewater samples physically, chemically, and biologically. The quality examination identifies impurities, pollutants and contaminants in the water samples brought out to the lab. It is then followed by series of operations and processes aimed at removal of the identified pollutants and contaminants. The primary focus of this laboratory has been undergraduate and graduate teaching. However, as the laboratory was being developed and as early as 1998, research funding was obtained to conduct graduate research on various methods for removal of pollutants. Since then, 5 graduate students and one visiting scholar from Germany have completed or are currently conducting experimental research projects in this laboratory.
    The teaching experiments are designed to conduct the necessary analyses required to determine suitability of water for domestic use. The experiments are according to the ones in the book “Standard Methods for the Examination of water and wastewater”. This book, published by the American Public Health Association, is the bible of water quality analysis. The students follow pages of the book in association with handouts given at the introduction of each experiment which represent the custom-designed, updated step by step tasks specifically for the lab.
    The analyses experiments are as follows: Total, Settleable and Dissolved Solids, Color and Turbidity, Dissolved Oxygen, PH, Alkalinity, Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), Nitrogen Compounds (Organic and Inorganic nitrogen), Oil and Grease, Gas Analysis using chromatography (Carbon Dioxide, Methane)
The treatment experiments are as follows: Solids Removal, Color and Turbidity Removal, Nitrogen Removal  both using Biological and Physical/Chemical Method, Oil and Grease Removal and Biological Removal of Organic Compounds using both Aerobic (Activated Sludge reactor) and Anaerobic Method (Methane Fermentation reactors).
We are already looking for funding for the next set of treatment (contaminant removal) technologies. These are Water Filtration, Ion Exchange, and Membrane Technologies such as Reverse Osmosis.
    Throughout the design of the laboratory and experiments, space efficiency and waste minimization has been emphasized. The number of units ordered or assembled has also been optimized according to the estimated number of students in each group and also the estimated number of groups.
    Determination of total, suspended, and dissolved solids is done using the gravimetric method of solids analysis. Turbidity of water is measured using a turbidity meter. The color of water is determined using the spectrophotometer while the dissolved oxygen and PH of water are measured using the electrode methods as well as a chemical method of dissolved oxygen determination. The students will learn to measure Alkalinity using the titration method. COD is measured using a micro-COD apparatus. This is a cutting edge method and minimizes the amount of sample used and thus reduces the generated waste.  Nitrogen compounds are measured in  elaborate, complete  Kjeldahl nitrogen  apparatus. Oil and grease are measured in Soxhelet extraction units. The gas chromatograph has several columns for Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Ether compounds.
    The treatment units are either bought off-the shelf then fine-tuned according to the experiments’ needs, or custom-designed in the laboratory. Color and Turbidity removal is carried out in a Jar Test apparatus that was bought then calibrated. Nitrogen, Organic Compounds and Oil and Grease are removed biologically using biological reactors built in the laboratory. The reactors are both aerobic and anaerobic. The anaerobic ones reside in state-of-the art incubators for temperature and odor control. The aerobic reactors are stationed under the fume-hood for the duration of the experiments then disassembled and stored when not in use. These are carried out according to the principles of space efficiency in the laboratory.
    In summary, the importance of a laboratory in and experimental field such as Environmental Engineering cannot be over-emphasized. The quality of teaching of such a field is greatly enhanced when the students conduct the analyses or operate and maintain, and evaluate a treatment process. Fall 2001 was the first time the laboratory went into operation capable of conducting all the above-mentioned experiments. The overwhelmingly positive student feedback only underscored the importance of commitment to the onerous task of building this laboratory. It also validated the years of hard work that went into bringing it into fruition.

Sampling and preparation of Microalgae for viewing under the microscope.

Microscopic view of Microalgae grown in MTBE solution.

 Jar Test apparatus for removal of Color and Turbidity in water.

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