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Urban Water Sustainability: Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

When: 9 weeks over Summer 2021 (likely May 28 to July 30)

University of South Florida, Tampa, FL

***The recruitment for the 2021 Urban Water Sustainability REU was completed and the finalists were notified.


Students are paid a $600/week stipend along with free housing, food stipend, travel allowance to/from Tampa, FL, and a travel allowance to present their research at a national conference

REU participants must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States.

COVID-19 provisions: If travel to USF is not possible due to the continuation of travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, the REU will be offered online although applicants may be moved to research projects that can be hosted remotely.

For the Summer of 2021 the University of South Florida has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to host eight undergraduate students who will be starting their junior or senior year in Fall 2021 to work on an interdisciplinary Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program focusing on Urban Water Sustainability (UWS). The students accepted into the program will be paired in a team and work with research mentors on specific topics that address environmental concerns related to UWS.

The REU consists of five components, 1-4 occurring during the nine week summer REU and the fifth in the following spring: 1) mentored research project; 2) research methods course; 3) a short course on water sustainability; and 4) experiential learning field trips and 5) all REU UGs presenting their findings at one regional or national conference in Fall 2021 or Spring 2022 depending on conference.

Apply Here!

Application Instructions

There will be four research projects as part of this REU:

Project 1: The seasonal flux of contaminants into lakes and groundwater.

Septic tanks are significant reservoirs for environmental contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs).These contaminants are flushed from the soil as they become saturated during Florida’s wet season, and consequently, they end up in lakes and potentially in well water. In a karst environment, the houses surrounding these lakes not only produce these PPCPs via septic tanks, but they also use the well water recharged from the lakes and surface percolation waters. The project will measure the assemblages and quantities of these PPCPs change in both the lake water and residential wells. Students incorporated into this project will assist with sample collection, analyses, data interpretation, and writing findings into an academic presentation framework. REU students will be encouraged to present at the American Water Resources Association, and the American Geophysical Union.
Faculty mentors: Dr. Philip van Beynen and Dr. Kamal Alsharif

Project 2: Arsenic Mobilization.

Worldwide, nitrate and arsenic are among the most common groundwater pollutants. In some groundwater aquifers, such as in West Central Florida, nitrate-contaminated groundwater comes into contact with arsenopyrite, a natural mineral that contains iron, sulfur and arsenic. The presence of nitrate stimulates the activity of microbes that “mobilize” arsenic or release it into the groundwater. This threatens the drinking water of many communities. This project seeks to understand the factors that limit or promote arsenic mobilization. We will obtain aquifer cores from Florida wells that are contaminated with both nitrate and arsenic. The students will set up experiments that mimic aquifer environments under varying conditions and will monitor changes in nitrate and arsenic concentrations, as well as other indicators such as sulfate. The project addresses a worldwide environmental and public health problem that is also significant in Florida. REU students working on this project will present their work at local or national conferences: the American Water Works Association, the American Chemical Society, or the American Geophysical Union.
Faculty mentor: Dr. Sarina Ergas

Project 3: Oil Spill Modelling.

Managing and cleaning up groundwater contaminated by oil spills requires us to understand the way that the water and oil flow together through the ground. The large-scale behavior of an oil spill is controlled by processes that occur at small scales, such as how the water and oil flow through narrow spaces between grains of sand in an aquifer. Describing the small-scale movement of immiscible fluids is challenging, but it is possible to do this using computer programs and computer algorithms based on a method called lattice Boltzmann modeling (LBM). Researchers at USF have been developing LBM computer programs to model the behavior of oil spills under different conditions. Summer REU students will extend the capabilities of our existing LBM programs, with the ultimate goal of developing tools that can be used to assess risk and design efficient clean-up strategies. REU students working on this project will present their work at local or national conferences: the American Water Works Association, the American Chemical Society, or the American Geophysical Union.
Faculty mentor:Dr. Jeffrey Cunningham

Project 4: Plumbing Poverty in Underserved Communities: Exploring Water and Sanitation Insecurity in the University Area Community, Tampa, Florida

Water and sanitation (wastewater) infrastructure (WSI) in the United States is aging and deteriorating, with massive underinvestment over the past several decades. Lack of attention to WSI has combined with racial segregation and discrimination to produce uneven access to water and wastewater services across the urban landscape. In many metropolitan areas in the U.S., those that suffer most are residents of low-income, minority communities located in disadvantaged unincorporated areas on the margins of major cities where residents typically lack the benefit of municipal citizenship and live without piped water, sewage lines, and adequate drainage or flood control. Through active engagement with the residents of the University Area Community neighborhood (39% Hispanic, 33% Black, 40% below the poverty line), REU participants will work with environmental anthropologists and other social and health scientists to document the experiences of WSI insecure residents, how they negotiate their daily lives with water and sanitation challenges, and what steps can be taken to address these problems. Some of the main research questions are: What social, cultural, historical, political, and economic conditions impact WSI insecurity? What are residents’ perceptions and understandings of the equitability, sustainability, and health risks associated with current WSI services? What are preferred approaches for managing cumulative risks associated with chemical and microbial pollutants?REU participants will engage in this community-based participatory action research project by performing onsite observational assessments, ground-truthing environmental data, conducting surveys and interviews, transcribing and coding qualitative data, analyzing the results, and producing actionable knowledge to affect change. Students will present their research results at multiple regional and national professional venues, including the annual USF Undergraduate Research Conference, the UF Water Institute Symposium, the Florida Academy of Sciences Conference, and the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers Annual Conference in Orlando.
Faculty mentor: Dr. Christian Wells