Immersing wastewater treatment in digital models

Mitacs intern helping to prevent dead zones in Canada’s lakes and rivers

This summer, Nathalia Soares Covre, a Mitacs intern from Brazil, is helping the modelEAU team develop a digital model of an innovative wastewater treatment process. This new process reduces the discharge of nitrogen into lakes and rivers so that plant operators can work to reduce the impact of urban wastewater on local ecosystems.

Nathalia’s host professor, Dr. Peter Vanrolleghem, explains that an excess of nitrogen and other nutrients in the water can upset the delicate balance of the ecosystem, and threaten the survival of flora and fauna that rely on these bodies of water. When nutrients make their way into the water and increase in concentration beyond natural levels, it causes an imbalance that can lead to invasive species taking over. If that happens, plants and animals may no longer be able to live in the ecosystem at all. The lake or river becomes what environmental researchers call a ‘dead zone’.

The team’s advanced computer model allows them to manipulate treatment conditions and simulate how they would improve efficiency within the modelled facility. The pilot system is configured like many common wastewater treatment plants, meaning that the team’s resulting research could be easily transferred to treatment plants across the country.

Nathalia is studying sanitary and environmental engineering at her university in Brazil but says that her project this summer has shown her that she enjoys learning about experimentation from people rather than paper.

“Working in the field has cemented my desire to continue down this career path. I hope to continue my collaboration with the modelEAU team in the future.”

Nathalia’s supervisor, Dr. Vanrolleghem, has hosted a few Mitacs interns over the years and enjoys the collaborations.

“My interns have told me that they appreciate the opportunity for hands-on learning. The knowledge that their work is a part of something bigger— something that will have real world applications down the road— is a great motivator for them.”

Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, in the summer of 2019, Mitacs was pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico; and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.​

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