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TIE congratulates Laura Read and Nicholas Wilton for innovative thinking and excellence in research!

The DOW Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award presents $10,000 to two grand prize winners who demonstrate innovative thinking and excellence in research through interdisciplinary projects that exemplify Dow’s 2014 Sustainability Goals and the potential to solve serious problems.

This year, the Dow SISCA held focused selection criteria requiring that projects address environmental issues on the Mystic and Malden Rivers of Massachusetts.

Grand Prize Winners Laura Read and Nicholas Wilton introduced innovations to the fields of flood management and green soil remediation. Tufts Institute of the Environment is proud to celebrate these two achievements!

On Design and Communication of Future Flood Risk: New approaches to flood risk management 

Water resources design has widely used the average return period as a concept to define, manage, and communicate the risk of experiencing flood over a certain number of years. Hydrologic design engineers often mistakenly assume that the probabilities of flooding are stationary, and though hydrologists, climatologists and others now generally agree that due to climate change, urbanization, and other effects, risks are not stationary, however, the communication of flood risk is often misrepresented.  Read’s research works to improve risk communication to flood damages by pointing out fundamentally problematic issues with the average return period and showing how reliability is a more appropriate alternative. This work compares three metrics for hydrologic design – reliability, average reliability, and the return period – in an economic framework to illustrate a new approach for risk-based design under uncertainty that connects the design event decision with economic losses.

Laura Read is a PhD student at Tufts University in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and a National Science Foundation Integrated Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT) Fellow. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from The University of Puget Sound and her M.S.E. in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation is focused on decision-making for water resources under risk and uncertainty. She works on two problems under this framework: (1) understanding how to effectively communicate and design hydraulic infrastructure in a changing climate and urbanizing world; (2) applying new methods to characterize risk and reliability for flood planning.  Laura has worked in Peru as a USAID Climber Scientist fellow where she assessed the technical water needs of small Andean communities and build capacity for adaptation. She served as co-project lead for the Engineers Without Borders CAMBIAR program in Peru from 2010-2013.

Green Soil Remediation Using Plant-Based Surfactant and Recycled Polystyrene Foam–Application to Sites of Coal Tar Contamination

Wilton’s work focuses on developing environmentally-friendly approaches to cleaning sites of toxic contamination, specifically coal tar contamination. His system, piloted in June 2013,cleans the soil by mixing contaminated soil with plant-based soap and recycled, ground Styrofoam. The soap pulls the tar from the soil, the tar adheres to the surface of the Styrofoam due to similar chemical properties, and clean soil separates by sinking away from the floating, tarry Styrofoam. This new methodology has the potential to clean soil within a matter of hours, a substantial improvement over current techniques which require days. On top of this, his technique makes prominent use of renewable or recycled materials, reducing the carbon emissions associated with traditional remediation.

Nicholas Wilton is a graduate of Bard College and PhD candidate in the laboratory of Professor Albert Robbat at Tuft’s Center for Field Analytical Studies and Technology. Wilton is a Massachusetts native, and today, at age 26, love is at the core of his pursuits both personal and professional. A staunch supporter of civil rights and environmental advocacy, Nicholas’s work focuses on developing sustainable ways to clean environmental spills–which disproportionally affect our nation’s poor communities. In his free time Nicholas enjoys making installation art, spending time with his friends and going on weekend-long adventures. It is his hope to one day become a professor at the university level, providing empowerment to the next generation’s scientific minds.