Carnegie Mellon University
April 07, 2014

IGERT Grant Helps Students Make International Connections

IGERT Grant Helps Students Make  International Connections

Ben Gurion University PhD student Jenia Gutman trains Lauren how to operate the QCM-D which is used to characterize thin film formation in an effort to mimic organic adsorption on a membrane surface.Ben Gurion University PhD student Jenia Gutman trains Lauren how to operate the QCM-D which is used to characterize thin film formation in an effort to mimic organic adsorption on a membrane surface.

Second year CEE PhD student Lauren Strahs knows how to find water in the middle of the desert. That’s because she spent six weeks in Israel last June working with engineers who can turn ocean brine into drinking water. Strahs took the trip with the help of the Integrative Graduate Education Research Fellowship (IGERT) program, ‘Educating at the Interface: Nanotechnology-Environmental Effects and Policy (NEEP)’, housed in ICES, and funding students in several CIT departments including CEE. This interdisciplinary program, funded by the National Science Foundation, has resources specifically allocated for students’ international travel. 

Strahs’ advisor and IGERT principal investigator Jeanne VanBriesen explains that in addition to completing research and coursework combining engineering and environmental policy, all IGERT students are encouraged to pursue an overseas research experience. This is unique because many traditional PhD candidates do not have the means to travel, even if their advisors have international collaborators. The IGERT program, however, provides each student with funding for airfare, housing, and other living expenses for one to two months abroad. This gives students the chance to learn skills that they can share with their research groups at Carnegie Mellon and use to enhance their own work.

For instance, Strahs’ current project in Pittsburgh is focused on cleaning water through use of membranes. Her collaborators at Ben Gurion University use this same technology to remove the salt from seawater and create drinking water for Israel’s residents. Strahs says it was an “added bonus” to visit a place with such different water challenges from Pittsburgh because it broadened her understanding of global water issues. 

The Israeli research group, led by Dr. Moshe Herzberg, taught Strahs to use a technique that will give her a closer look at the layer of material that builds up on membranes as they filter water. Strahs plans to use this technique to help find ways to reduce this build-up and make the membranes filtering industrial wastewaters more efficient. She also plans to hold a small workshop to teach this technology to other interested students, using a similar piece of equipment recently acquired in the laboratory of her co-advisor, Meagan Mauter, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy.

“We’re very lucky that IGERT gives us this opportunity,” says Strahs, because she feels she learned a lot from the experience. “I got some excellent training and it was great expanding my personal and professional network.” She also feels that the experience benefitted her personally, especially since her future career may take her outside of the United States. “Every country works a bit differently and understanding that will make it easier every time I meet new people,” she says.