The availability of clean drinking water is one of the most world’s most pressing issues, especially in underserved communities. Doctoral candidate Katherine Alfredo hopes that through her research, she can shed light on how the interaction of various chemicals, specifically fluoride and aluminum, and organic matter can impact drinking water.
Katherine’s interest in viable water treatment techniques began during a research trip to Ghana, where she lived in a remote village and learned about fluoride problems in the Upper Eastern Region. Later, she worked for a small water-oriented engineering company, looking at the water quality problems caused by the excessive development in the New York City area. Katherine’s profound desire to research water chemistry and treatment possibilities for both extremely rural and urban environments led her to complete her M.S. in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering (EWRE) at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the EWRE program at UT, where her research involves analyzing the chemical interactions and competition between fluoride, aluminum, and natural organic matter when aluminum-based coagulants are used to treat drinking water containing excess levels of fluoride.
Impressed by Dr. Desmond F. Lawler’s support of her research and “the department’s close-knit community,” Katherine chose the EWRE department for her master’s and Ph.D. She says, “I love the open-door community the department’s professors have created. I feel I can drop in on any professor in the department, whether they are related to my research in any way or not, and discuss research and career questions. I also appreciate how the department is a community, where it is the norm to know everyone in the program, not the exception.” Katherine describes her study of water chemistry aspects of environmental engineering as “challenging, but extremely rewarding.”
A member of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (2006-2010), Katherine was able to pursue her research in the field of naturally occurring fluoride and return to Ghana to conduct research in 2008. After later receiving the U.S. Student Fulbright Fellowship Grant (2008-2009), Katherine returned to Ghana to map the physical distribution of fluoride contamination and research the socio-culturally complexities surrounding the use of water. She recently presented her findings at the ACE10 AWWA National Conference in Chicago.
Other awards Katherine has received include: the University of Texas at Austin Thrust Fellowship (2005-present), assisting her in completing the doctoral program; NSF GK-12 Fellowship (2010-2011) through which she will work as the resident scientist for two local teachers, assisting with weekly lessons and bringing imagination and fun to science in the classroom (more information at http://www.esi.utexas.edu/gk12/); the P.E.O Scholar Award (2011-2012) supporting women pursuing higher education; and the UT Austin Graduate Continuing Fellowship (2011-2012).
Katherine created an afterschool Science & Engineering Club at local Ann Richards Middle School, which received the 2010-2011 SWE Program Development Grant. She explains her role in the program: “As the coordinator I mentor graduate students in designing hands-on activities related to their research/engineering discipline. I also create, plan, and manage the coordination of club activities and interactions with the middle school staff. This year I am attempting to survey and collect data on the effectiveness of the program for future funding and implementation in more schools.” Katherine is also an active member of the Society of Women Engineers, UT chapter, and helps plan professional development workshops for female graduate engineering students. Between her studies and her community development projects, Katherine is an avid runner and looks forward to the Austin 2012 marathon. She also loves biking, and one day she hopes to travel to “all corners of the world.”
Katherine aims “to incorporate more of the human aspect of drinking water treatment,” as she was able to do while in Ghana, and ultimately hopes “to continue feeling fascinated and inspired by what I research.” She says, “I don’t want to look back and think, I wish I had.”