Field experiences enhance summer learning

Sept. 3, 2021

Students chronicle summer research in the field

As one of the nation’s top research universities, Michigan State University prepares Spartans to think critically and creatively to gather important data that will help shape future conservation methods and inform public health measures across the state. Here, environmental engineering students share thoughts on some of the important research projects they took part in this summer.

Spartans did extensive field research this summer.
Spartans did extensive field research this summer.

The members of the MSU Environmental Virology Lab in the College of Engineering, led by Professor of Environmental Engineering Irene Xagoraraki, may be seen in the Detroit metro area in head-to-toe personal protective equipment. Wearing lab coveralls, N95 masks, goggles, nitrile gloves, steel toe shoes and hard hats, student researchers have been collecting wastewater samples every Monday since January 2018 from three different interceptor facilities in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

Collecting wastewater is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is important work for so many reasons. For starters, wastewater contains viruses, which provide important clues that may inform public health protocols. Since the onset of the pandemic, the main virus extracted these days is COVID-19.

Ph.D. student Brijen Miyani
Brijen Miyani

The objective is to quantify the amount of virus in a sample. This allows the lab to track and predict COVID-19 outbreaks and detect the presence of variants. Having this information available helps to warn public officials, who can then make informed decisions about pressing issues such as how to open the economy in safe ways and when to channel efforts toward vaccination drives.

While the work is far from glamorous, it is both exciting and gratifying.

“Our research has real impact on people’s lives,” said Liang Zhao, a doctoral student in environmental engineering.

Environmental engineering graduate student Maddie Spooner; Zach Gentry, senior in the College of Engineering; and Brijen Miyani, doctoral student in environmental engineering, are all members of the lab and contributed to this story.

To learn more about Miyani's experiences, read his Student view: Preparing for a pandemic.

Read more on other Spartan’s adventures at: My Spartan Summercourtesy of MSUToday.