Two Lehigh engineering students recently won a national science competition focused on alleviating world poverty. Seniors Mike Norelli and Lee Blaney discussed their research papers as part of a side event at the13th Commission of Sustainable Development at the United Nations (U.N.). Their work will also be published in an upcoming issue of Citizen Science.
The writing competition was conducted by Citizen Science, the science and technology program of a non-governmental organization (NGO) known as Sustain US. The Citizen Scientist competition honors young people in the United States who are enriching public dialogue with innovative, scientific approaches to sustainable development.
Both seniors, who were the only winners in a nation-wide competition that considered applicants between the ages of 13 and 26, say the opportunity to present their research at the U.N. was exciting.
“The experience I had at the U.N. was incredible, Norelli says. “The concentration of the week was to create an actual policy to be used to alleviate poverty, and being involved in this process opened my eyes to the power of text in law making. And while my presentation may not have yielded any tangible results in helping to end poverty, it awakened me to the possibilities that young people have to make a positive impact on the world.”
Norelli, a mechanical engineering major, viewed the competition as an opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to the real world. During the course of his research on global poverty, Norelli concentrated on simple science that could benefit the poorest individuals in rural India. Compared to more expensive, high-tech development projects, Norelli's paper focused on converting biological waste materials into fuel resources. “Rather than looking to create new science to be used to help impoverished people, efforts should be made to implement existing, practical science and technologies in poverty stricken areas,” Norelli says.
Blaney, an environmental engineer, is also interested in reusing waste as a means of sustaining development. Working closely with Arup SenGupta, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Lehigh, Blaney combined the work of two graduate students to create a new thesis. First, he would like to reduce the amount of waste that is created by water purification plants in developed countries. According to Blaney, iron particles could be extracted from the waste and later used to improve water purification in countries such as India, where water is poisoned by arsenic.
After graduating in May, Norelli will be working in product development for Ingersoll-Rand. Blaney plans to stay at Lehigh to earn his master’s degree, and may consider working for an NGO in the future.