PULLMAN, Wash. — Juli Sherwood and Eric Schmieman, engineering Ph.D. students who did collaborative research through WSU’s Center for Multiphase Environmental Research, not only have contributed new knowledge to the environmental cleanup efforts, but received doctoral degrees at the May 9 graduation.
Both are superior scholars, say their faculty in chemical and civil engineering, and each received special awards for their work. Sherwood won this year’s Harriet Rigas Award from the Association of Faculty Women as the most outstanding doctoral woman student from 27 nominated throughout campus.
Her research employs bacteria to neutralize carbon tetrachloride and trichloroethane — potentially hazardous chemicals found in solvents and degreasers in manufacturing and dry cleaning — into more benign compounds. Both chemicals are suspected carcinogens widely distributed as contaminants in ground-water aquifers throughout the United States — one particular carbon tetrachloride plume being found in the ground water underneath the DOE-Hanford site in the Tri-Cities.
Sherwood’s research on minimizing the amount of chloroform produced by the denitrifying bacteria found that chlorinated by-products could be minimized when bacteria are fed more nitrate than acetate, since chloroform produced by these bacteria is controlled by the ratio of nutrients fed them.
She also taught senior-level process control under the tutelage of her adviser, Jim Petersen. She prepared and delivered class lectures, assigned homework, gave exams and final course grades, held regular office hours, and attended teaching improvement seminars to better understand team learning. Her student ratings were high. She also published four articles in respected peer journals and presented papers at several conferences.
The Rigas Award committee was impressed with Sherwood’s well-rounded contributions to the university — “not simply tied to the labs. Juli was a tutor to minority and women engineering students, was a copy editor for the Daily Evergreen, a teacher and scholar,” said Rita Fisher, chair of the selection committee. “Her potential for professional leadership is extraordinary.”
“Schmieman,” says his adviser David Yonge, “is a remarkable student whose research not only is first-rate, but he’s gone beyond the call of duty to become a mentor to several master’s students, and is active with Tau Beta Pi, a student honorary. His refereed publications and presentations at national and international conferences show the highest quality work.”
He won second prize in the Sigma Xi Graduate Student Research Paper Competition this spring for his presentation on chromium reduction in soils near tanneries and plutonium production facilities by using mixed cultures of bacteria. “Hexavalent chromium” (chromium 6) is known to be toxic and carcinogenic. Coming to WSU in 1995 on a Battelle-PNNL educational leave, Schmieman has soil collections high in chromium from places all around the world.
“We’ve learned we can get bacteria that exist in the soil to help us remediate chromium-contaminated sites, and how much to feed the bacteria to achieve the rate of cleanup we seek. Our method begins this week on a site in South Carolina,” says Schmieman. Bio-cleanup such as this takes from months to years, depending on the degree of contamination.
Sherwood is at 509/332-6134, jsherwoo@che.wsu.edu; Schmieman is at 509/332-4231, EricSch@wsu.edu.