Forward Thinking

Water: A Precious Resource in Science Education

Ahmed Lachhab, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Ben Kopec '10 discuss their research wile relaxing in their natural laboratory: the Susquehanna River.

When it was announced that Target, Kohl’s, Starbucks and other national retail chains would be coming to Shamokin Dam, Pa., most of the Susquehanna Valley’s residents were thrilled. The exception was those living around the site that would become Monroe Marketplace. “They were scared the water level of their wells would drop,” says Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Ahmed Lachhab, who studied the proposed site. “I was able to use groundwater modeling and predicted the water levels would not sink. And they didn’t.”

From arid Morocco, Lachhab understands the importance of water. “Water is the future,” he says. “There are countries without water that have to import it, and some countries even fight about it. Here in America we have so much water, and it’s our most precious natural resource.”

Lachhab’s specialty is groundwater hydrology, an important pursuit since more than 50 percent of Americans drink groundwater. “Groundwater is naturally filtered. It doesn’t require lots of cleaning like the water from streams.” But while groundwater is, by definition, below the surface, it can still become polluted. “Before you can treat pollution, you need to understand water. Where does it come from, how does it move and where does it move?” Lachhab tackles these questions with students.

Over the past four years, Lachhab and students tested Middle Creek for phosphate concentration caused by agricultural runoff, measured the success of a reclamation site recovering from acid mine drainage, and found the causes of sinking water levels in Montandon Marsh. They are now studying water downstream from a power plant on the Susquehanna River that cleans water used to break apart rock for the extraction of natural gas. Ben Kopec ’10, who worked alongside Lachhab, says, “All the waterways near the university lead to the Chesapeake Bay, so the work we do is really important. I want my research to have a purpose. I want to see the results. ”

The results are stunning, at least where Kopec’s future is concerned. This summer he started a doctorate program at Dartmouth College. “My background looks great on paper, and when I toured graduate schools and interviewed with professors, I knew what I was talking about.” Kopec will work with the Egbert Project for Polar and Environmental Change, investigating the effects of sea ice on arctic precipitation.

That Kopec is able to conduct such extensive research is no surprise to Lachhab. “Undergraduates can be very productive if you know how to work with them. They pick up stuff very fast,” Lachhab says. “When students leave Susquehanna, I want them to say to their employers or grad school advisers, ‘I can do this and I can do that, and those things that I can’t do, I can learn.’ ”

Contributing writers to The ‘Grove section are Jenny Ruth Binger ‘04, assistant director of recruitment communications; Heather Cobun ‘10 and Charlotte Lotz ‘12.



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