UMass Lowell to train students in protection

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell professors pool their expertise to train young engineers, scientists and policy makers to protect endangered water resources.

Led by Associate Professor of Plastics Engineering Meg Sobkowicz-Kline and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Hansen, the team received nearly $ 3 million from the National Science Foundation to create the Sustainable Water Innovations in Materials – Mentoring program. , Education and Research (SWIMMER) at UMass Lowell. The initiative is one of 23 projects to receive a share of $ 64 million in funding from the National Science Foundation’s research internship program under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The program will train 60 UMass Lowell Masters and Doctorates. students to develop sustainable materials and chemicals that will reduce damage to water resources. Participants will be graduate students in plastic, mechanical, chemical, civil and environmental engineering; as well as chemistry; Earth Science; biology; public health; economy; and other disciplines.

UMass Lowell faculty members leading the project are expanding its program and hope to launch SWIMMER with a dozen students next fall. Participants will continue their graduate studies in the fields of their choice, while also working in several disciplines with other members of the team.

The program will include a preparatory training camp, a two-semester core course and team-building projects. Participants will also complete an internship hosted by partner organizations, such as the Merrimack River Watershed Council, or with a company affiliated with the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council, of which UMass Lowell professor of public health, Joel Tickner, is executive director.

At the Tsongas Industrial History Center, SWIMMER researchers will learn how past pollution of the Merrimack River led to health crises in Lowell. The Merrimack now provides drinking water to approximately 500,000 people in five communities in Massachusetts, including Lowell, and several communities in New Hampshire.

“They will see how healthy the river was in the past, what it is in the present and how to hopefully prevent pollution in the future,” said Hansen. “We don’t want all student training to be done only at UMass Lowell or just with their research faculty. The idea is to have real world engagement.

Participants will also address issues such as ‘chemicals forever’ including polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) in water supplies and how droughts, in the United States and around the world, affect water resources.

“It’s a relevant topic that applies to their lives,” he said. “They can be an agent of change, an agent of good in the world.”

Along with Sobkowicz-Kline, Hansen and Tickner, other UMass Lowell faculty members who will help train participants include Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Sheree Pagsuyoin, Assistant Professor of Chemistry James Reuther, the Professor of Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences Juliette Rooney-Varga, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Frederic Chain, Associate Professor of Economics David Kingsley and Greg Morose, Research Director at the Use Reduction Institute toxic substances from UMass Lowell.

“There are many diverse research topics in the area of ​​water-material interactions that students can borrow in different ways,” Sobkowicz-Kline said. “We are grateful to have professors here at UMass Lowell who can successfully advance this.”

To ensure the program includes the talents of a diverse group of students, the initiative will also recruit graduate students from Prairie View A&M University and the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez. Both universities are considered institutions serving minorities by the US Department of Education.

Hansen and Sobkowicz-Kline said it is essential to develop graduates who not only have the STEM skills required for innovative solutions, but who are also sensitive to society’s needs for environmental justice and inclusive decision-making.

“It’s just a fact that minority communities in America are disproportionately affected by pollution and resource degradation,” Hansen said.

Hansen hopes that the SWIMMER program can serve as a springboard for the careers of participating students, whether in industry, in a startup, in a non-profit organization, in the public service or in the classroom as an educator.

“We want them to form lifelong partnerships and collaborations with the other people in their cohort, and we want them to translate that into amazing research that becomes known nationally and internationally,” he said. declared. “And then eventually, when they graduate, they do something that no one else really has that skill to do.”


UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus at the heart of a global community. The university offers its students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell offers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning, and personal attention from top faculty and staff, which prepare all graduates to become leaders in their communities and around the world.

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