CEE undergrad shares internship experience with World Bank

Natalie Northrup '22 is an incoming junior in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Working from home is a challenge. I made it through the end of spring semester and I will make it through another semester this fall, but working from home for the World Bank this summer has been a different kind of challenge. My work with the Bank was made possible by the MIT Washington DC Summer Internship Program (MITDC), a program run by the Political Science (17) Department. The program funds travel and housing for 10-20 MIT students who have in interest in science [...]

Natalie Northrup ’22 is an incoming junior in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Working from home is a challenge. I made it through the end of spring semester and I will make it through another semester this fall, but working from home for the World Bank this summer has been a different kind of challenge.

My work with the Bank was made possible by the MIT Washington DC Summer Internship Program (MITDC), a program run by the Political Science (17) Department. The program funds travel and housing for 10-20 MIT students who have in interest in science policy and are looking to work in Washington, D.C. In a traditional year, the student cohort attends seminars and networking sessions while in D.C. for their internships, and participates in a 12-unit class, split between spring and fall semester, to help provide context for their summer work.

The program caught my attention after an internship working with brownfield site remediation in the Rust Belt. During the internship I learned just how important environmental regulations are in maintaining good stewardship of the environment. Many of the companies we worked with cleaned up sites or installed systems because there were regulations or subsidies to promote those behaviors. This example of the importance of government regulation inspired me to look at policy as a path to greater sustainability.

With this interest, I applied for the MITDC program in January and by the end of February knew I was accepted. From there, I reached out to think tanks, congressional committees, and other organizations in the D.C. area, using contacts from previous years of the program and applying for posted internships. Through a connection made by a connection of the program, I ended up with a position in urban systems analytics at the World Bank.

Natalie Northrup’s remote workspace as she interns at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

When the coronavirus came full swing to the U.S. the program decided not to cancel for the summer, but to have all internships and seminars take place remotely. Though it was great to still have a job for the summer, this news was really disappointing. This meant no more meeting other MIT students and UVA students (the summer programming is a joint effort between MIT and UVA) while we all lived together in dorms, no more walking around the Capital in professional clothing (passing as a VIP to anyone who didn’t get too close), no more watching the 4th of July celebration on the National Mall, and most unfortunately, no more workplace culture and networking opportunities.

This brings us back to my initial point: working from home has been a challenge. I thrive on human connection. Building relationships with coworkers and peers is something that brings me joy alongside the work I am doing. It creates trust that leads me to coworkers when I need a question answered or need help finding direction for the project. It gives me exposure to the many different paths I could take to bringing positive change to the world.

But alas, we persevere. In my position for the Bank, I am working with environmental indicators, traffic data, and industry data to analyze pollution levels in Romanian cities. With this position I have strengthened my data analytics skills, making the available datasets workable, identifying correlations, and presenting the results in illustrative figures. I have also had more responsibility for my work than ever before. The internship started with my supervisor presenting the dataset and telling me ‘Do something interesting with it.’ So, I brainstormed and then got started. Now, nine weeks later, I am working on a report on urban sensor networks that will be supplementary material for the urban policy being presented to the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration in December. The goal is for this report to aid the country of Romania in effectively using funds from the EU’s Green Deal while building a monitoring network that will accurately inform environmental and quality-of-life measures moving forward.

It has been a challenge working from home on a largely self-motivated project, but challenges are opportunities for growth and I can definitely say I grew as a scientist, employee, and student this summer

My interest in science policy is not short lived. After this internship, I am excited for future opportunities to combine my technical skills with policy goals to design a more sustainable future!

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Interning in the midst of COVID-19: CEE undergrad shares her experience

  Rovi Porter is a Junior in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. With all the craziness of Covid-19, being sent home, and constantly trying to soak in all the new information, my summer internship was not my top priority. Being a course 1 environmental engineering student, I wanted to use summer 2020 to learn more about the business sector, as I had done research the previous two summers. I combed through google results and scoured handshake and glassdoor to find any companies in the Washington area, to be close to my sisters. However, I did not have much [...]

 

Rovi Porter is a Junior in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

With all the craziness of Covid-19, being sent home, and constantly trying to soak in all the new information, my summer internship was not my top priority. Being a course 1 environmental engineering student, I wanted to use summer 2020 to learn more about the business sector, as I had done research the previous two summers.

I combed through google results and scoured handshake and glassdoor to find any companies in the Washington area, to be close to my sisters. However, I did not have much luck. In April, as I was still attempting to find an internship, many companies I had applied to had paused hiring due to the uncertainty with the Covid-19 situation. As a part of my internship search, I reached out to Eric Lau, an MIT alumnus from Hawaii, who’s working at Element Environmental

(E2), an environmental consulting firm on Oahu. Three weeks later we were calling to talk about what the internship would entail and more about the company. We decided that due to the lock down in Hawaii we would start the internship remotely and then see when it was safer to do in person.

My first project at E2 was to comb through reference documents to determine what regulation limits were used on each site and compare them to current regulation standards. Based on the different sites, it ranged from levels of Polychlorinated BiPhenyls (PCBs) to levels of lead and arsenic. It was really cool to read about the harmful chemicals that I had learned about in 1.080 Environmental Chemistry being taken out of the environment and background on how it got there. This first project really exposed me to the different environmental laws that govern what concentrations and methods are allowed to be discharged into the environment. I got to sit in on a discussion hosted by the National Association of Environmental Professionals surrounding what the Supreme Court’s Clean Water Act decision means for future groundwater permitting.

After listening in on this meeting, I realized that unclear laws can make it difficult for companies and counties to determine the extent that reparations are needed, but it can also be difficult to set specific laws as each individual case is unique. After talking with some of the other staff at E2 I found how big of an impact academia has on the field, as one of the current workers at E2 did his PHD studying how higher ratios of N-15 to N-14 in Ulva (an algae) indicated the presence of wastewater. And now when doing water quality surveys, they actually look at that ratio, meaning his method is already being utilized!

Caption: Meeting with Haley Nakamura (MIT class of ‘23) for a checkup with Eric Lau on our progress in making excel macros

The next part of my internship was learning how to use and create macros. Macros are essentially coding for word or excel where you can do a lot of formatting and data manipulation. Haley Nakamura, a fellow intern from Hawaii and MIT student, and I were assigned with figuring out how to split a merged word document and save each new doc under specific names. We struggled with section breaks, formatting issues, and missing headings, but finally after countless google searches, Haley and I were able to produce a working macro. Previous coding classes really helped me understand and generate code for the macros which uses visual basic. Soon after, we were coding macros for excel that would format hundreds of buildings, identifying positive asbestos – a cancerous fiber – found in samples from the buildings. After learning the syntax of visual basic I finally realize why people write word or excel on their resumes.

One of my favorite parts of the internship was going out and doing field work, or as the interns like to call it, “field trips”. Especially since we would be driven out to the site and we would each bring home lunch. One time we helped collect soil samples from a reservoir that they wanted to dredge to determine if there were any harmful contaminants which would dictate where and how they would dispose of the soil. This reminded me of 1.107 when Professor Kroll got sediment samples from the bottom of the Charles river and we had to test for heavy metal concentrations.

Caption: Using the XRF to find heavy metal concentrations in soil samples

But this time we were sending the soil samples to the lab to do the testing for us. For a different project, we got to use an x-ray fluorensece (XRF) device to find concentrations of heavy metals in soils collected from what was likely an old landfill. Crazy enough, the soil we sifted through and bagged for sampling did have high concentrations of arsenic, which means it was a good thing we had our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). But this wasn’t the first time I had seen an XRF. The first was when Professor Admir Masic had used an XRF to find the composition of different paints in Italy – part of the 1.057 class.

When I first began this internship, I was ready to have to do a lot of research to catch up on all of the information I did not know, but I was surprised to find out that a lot of the field work was taking samples, similar to how we did in Professor Kroll’s environmental lab class. The staff at E2 have really taught me a lot about the environmental field and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

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CEE Student Runs Marathon for Black Lives Matter Movement

August 12th, 2020Uncategorized

  Luke Bastian is a senior in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.  Hey y’all, my name is Luke and I am going to be a senior this year in the Mechanics and Materials track of Course 1! As I’m sure it has been for nearly everyone on the planet, these past few months have been strange and a little bit sucky at times. As college students, not only were we subjected to the stresses of school away from our normal support systems, but we also once again had to grapple with the senseless killings of black human beings [...]

 

Luke Bastian is a senior in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

Hey y’all, my name is Luke and I am going to be a senior this year in the Mechanics and Materials track of Course 1! As I’m sure it has been for nearly everyone on the planet, these past few months have been strange and a little bit sucky at times. As college students, not only were we subjected to the stresses of school away from our normal support systems, but we also once again had to grapple with the senseless killings of black human beings at the hands of those tasked with protecting us. For me personally, I felt more hopeless about the whole situation than ever before. I wanted to do something to help, but didn’t necessarily know what would be effective – especially when trying to avoid protests due to concerns for my family’s health.

That’s when my fraternity, Sigma Nu, stepped in to organize a fundraiser for the Black Lives Matter Global Foundation and the National Bail Out Fund (special shout outs to Marvin Zetina ‘23, Jesus Rodriguez ‘23, Charles Coffey ‘22, Ricky Villarreal ‘20, and Ricky Alvarez ‘21). I was excited because it was a tangible good that – while of course not an instant fix for racism – would offer support to people who could markedly improve the world.

Scorecard used by Sigma Nu fraternity at MIT to help raise money for Black Lives Matter

Our fundraiser was centered around challenges and scratch cards. Once a brother filled up their scratch card with donations, they would complete a challenge of their choosing. These challenges ranged from brothers eating spicy foods to dying their hair to doing a pull-up for every dollar donated! I didn’t know what to do for my challenge at first, but when one brother jokingly told another to run a marathon, I was intrigued.

With three half marathons under my belt, I’ve assumed for a while that I would run a marathon at some point in my life, but had planned on waiting until after MIT when I might have more free time. However, as this pandemic has taught us again and again, plans change. I soon posted my scratch card and made it official. Even crazier, I pledged to run the marathon within two weeks – with no specific training :o. Thanks to friends and family (who ended up donating over $600!), not only was that scratch card filled, but so was an additional one that would have my girlfriend Abby McGee ‘20 join me on her bike! So it was decided – I was going to run a marathon.

Now I wasn’t in bad shape – one of the perks of quarantine is that I had been able to find more time to run – but a 9 mile run was the furthest I had gone lately. On the positive side of things, we have been staying in San Diego so we knew we would have some excellent weather on the run. Abby’s neighborhood is quite hilly, but we were able to chart a relatively flat 26.2 mile course with the goal of a 9 minute per mile pace.

Luke Bastion runs alongside girlfriend, Abby McGee on her bike.

On the morning of the marathon, we rolled out of bed at 5:00 am, filled up a Camelbak with water, grabbed some Gatorade gels (pls sponsor us @Gatorade), and hit the road. It was a quiet, beautiful morning. The first 10 miles were relatively smooth sailing – we listened to music and podcasts and chatted while we made a big loop of the neighborhood. After this first loop, we swung by the house and Abby’s little sister joined us for the next 10-mile loop. At mile 18, my knee felt like it was going to give out for a second, but luckily the feeling quickly went away and that was the only close call. After the second loop was finished, we swung by the house again with just 6 miles left. We were getting pretty tired at this point and wanted to stay close to the house, so we decided to run three 2-mile loops along a familiar route. Our fastest mile ended up being mile 23 – we were so ready to be done with the marathon that we were speeding up.

As we turned the final corner onto Abby’s street, we saw her whole family cheering for us with a finish line made out of painter’s tape, ~reused~ trophies & medals, and much needed protein shakes. As we victoriously crossed the finish line, just about a minute under our goal time of 3:56, we felt a great sense of pride about what we had just physically accomplished, but even more so about what this challenge meant in terms of raising money for a great cause. In the end, walking was a bit dicey for a couple days after, but we loved the experience and Sigma Nu ended up raising $10,760. Check out these links if you’re interested in giving: Black Lives Matter and  National Bail Out.

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PhD Candidate, Alexandre Tuel, Tracks Drying Trends in the Mediterranean Basin

July 17th, 2020Uncategorized

  From his earliest days growing up in France, Alexandre Tuel PhD ’20, has had an interest in weather and the natural world. “In France I was very interested in hard sciences: maths, physics, and earth sciences. I’ve always enjoyed weather and things like that.” Says Tuel. It was his ongoing passion for the environment that would shape Tuel’s future, as he decided to pursue a career as an engineer. Tuel stayed in France to attain his undergraduate degree; he loved the experience, and grounded himself in a solid understanding of the physical sciences. For Tuel, the first step to [...]

 

From his earliest days growing up in France, Alexandre Tuel PhD ’20, has had an interest in weather and the natural world.

“In France I was very interested in hard sciences: maths, physics, and earth sciences. I’ve always enjoyed weather and things like that.” Says Tuel. It was his ongoing passion for the environment that would shape Tuel’s future, as he decided to pursue a career as an engineer.

Tuel stayed in France to attain his undergraduate degree; he loved the experience, and grounded himself in a solid understanding of the physical sciences. For Tuel, the first step to solving a problem is to have a strong understanding of the underlying factors – this important perspective is something he would draw from later on in life to help tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.

As Tuel puts it, his undergraduate program was great for generalists and allowed him to fill his toolbox with valuable skills for the future. Questions, however, continued to lingered in his mind as to what he hoped his future would look like, and how he would apply his newfound knowledge.

“As I progressed, I ended up getting more into fluid dynamics and I also continued doing a lot of data analysis and statistics, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do” said Tuel. It was at this point that Tuel fell back on his first love: earth sciences. He decided to commit his studies to the subject of climate change.

After completing his master’s thesis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, Tuel was ready for new challenges and began researching programs to pursue his PhD.

But for Tuel, it was important to find a project connected to real-world impact.

“I didn’t really want to do purely theoretical work. I wanted to start from a problem that people really cared about and take a step back to see how we could solve it. So that’s how I ended up coming to MIT.” Tuel explained.

His pursuit of meaningful work eventually led him to become a member of Professor Elfatih Eltahir’s group. At the time, Eltahir was just beginning a project in Morocco to find ways to improve agriculture in the country. The prospect of a brand-new project with so many possibilities for climate studies was too tempting, and Tuel jumped onboard.

“Fundamentally, the problem of agriculture in Morocco is a lack of water. There is a lot of precipitation variability from year to year there. It is also one of the regions projected to dry the most due to climate change,” said Tuel. His group started comparing the variability of precipitation in Morocco from year to year. The goal was to build an accurate predictive model to help farmers in the country prepare for conditions under climate change.

“Morocco specifically, but more generally, the Mediterranean Basin, is one of the regions that is projected to dry the most under climate change. Not only is water critical today, but in the future, the trends are going to be difficult to cope with.” Says Tuel. “We developed high-resolution projections for Morocco specifically, and we looked at very relevant metrics for water management under climate change.”

The findings of Tuel’s and Eltahir’s study was published in the Journal of Climate in June. Tuel hopes his results will help to increase awareness and reduce uncertainty around the notions of climate change and global trends. He feels that a focus on more local and regional models and predictions is the best answer to increasing understanding and inspire action among the general public.

“The way to get people to care and to start acting is to show them what is going to happen over their own heads.” Tuel continued, “Focusing on the scale of regions, showing what is going to happen and that we can explain it is an important first step.”

Tuel is set to finish his PhD program in July. He does not yet know what he will do next, but whatever it is, his passion for earth and climate science will continue to guide him.

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CEE Profiles: Md Sami Hasnine

July 9th, 2020CEE Profiles

Md Sami Hasnine, is in the business of understanding people. From his research developing and building predictive models of human behavior, to his work in MIT’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion community, the CEE postdoc has displayed both a passion for, and some considerable skill in, promoting equality, diversity, and helping to drive change within his community. Hasnine is an engineer at heart; he’s got a passion for the work, which seems to run in his family. In his home country of Bangladesh, Hasnine’s father is a civil engineer as well - this early exposure helped Hasnine discover a love for [...]

Md Sami Hasnine, is in the business of understanding people. From his research developing and building predictive models of human behavior, to his work in MIT’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion community, the CEE postdoc has displayed both a passion for, and some considerable skill in, promoting equality, diversity, and helping to drive change within his community.

Hasnine is an engineer at heart; he’s got a passion for the work, which seems to run in his family. In his home country of Bangladesh, Hasnine’s father is a civil engineer as well – this early exposure helped Hasnine discover a love for the work and define his life’s path.

“From the very beginning of my life, I saw [my father] was devoted to engineering and had many engineering books. When I was in school, I used his structural engineering book, I didn’t buy the book,” laughed Hasnine.

Chasing his passion, Hasnine completed his undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology before going on to complete master’s and PhD programs at the University of Toronto. While at school in Toronto, Hasnine became very interested in predictive modeling of human behavior to help build and improve smart, sustainable cities. As Hasnine explains, Bangladesh is one of the most traffic-congested countries in the world – something he’d known as a boy growing up in the country and that had stuck with him, well before beginning his undergraduate studies. Hasnine enjoyed the work, which he saw as an opportunity to help his home community and add value to people’s lives.

“My main research is to predict human behavior, and how human behavior is connected to transportation decision making,” he explains. Whether for predicting complex issues related to flying cars, or for those as simple as recommending the right products to online consumers, for Hasnine, understanding human behavior is fundamental.

Throughout Hasnine’s studies, one name kept standing out – MIT’s Professor Moshe Ben-Akiva. Hasnine had originally hoped to complete his PhD program with Ben-Akiva, but outside factors unfortunately kept that from happening. After completing his studies, Hasnine jumped at the chance to work as a postdoc with the man who had become his idol.

“The area of my research—transportation travel demand-modeling—all the textbooks of this area are written by Professor Moshe Ben-Akiva.” Hasnine continued, “It was always my vision to work with Professor Ben-Akiva one day.” Hasnine joined Ben-Akiva’s team in September of 2019 and has established himself as an integral and valued team member.

But the drive to help improve his community that had propelled Hasnine through much of his early life did not disappear upon his arrival at MIT. Now a member of the CEE community, Hasnine became aware of a call for proposals by department leadership to promote and improve diversity and inclusion within CEE. Hasnine drew up a proposal and submitted it to the department leadership.

“I proposed that we should bring researchers who came from diverse backgrounds and they should talk about various challenges they faced in their lives and also, how today, they are very successful researchers. Talk about their journeys.” The CEE leadership would ultimately approve Hasnine’s proposal, and the CEE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Seminar Series was born. The seminar is now hosted monthly and features prominent researchers, who share stories of their lives – successes and struggles – before giving a short lecture on their topics of expertise. Hasnine says the group works hard to identify accomplished speakers from underdeveloped or under-served communities to share their messages.

Important to Hasnine is that his proposal is not just a tool to be used within CEE, but a model for connecting individuals with one another; one he believes could and should be used, throughout MIT. When it originally began, the seminar series was only aimed at the CEE community, but is now offered to the greater MIT community.

“We need to actually understand and go very deep on a grassroots level and then, we can actually try to help, eventually.” The CEE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which Hasnine was instrumental in helping to create and promote was one of the first of its kind at MIT, and helped develop and grow the Institute-wide committee that now exists.

Hasnine is happy with the committee’s impact thus far and hopes it will continue to support positive growth for the MIT community.

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Research explores why C. difficile infection continues to spread despite increased sanitation practices and intervention methods

February 10th, 2020News

Work underscores C. difficile infection is not a common hospital transmission CAMBRIDGE, MA – New research from MIT suggests the risk of becoming colonized by Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) increases immediately following gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances that result in diarrhea. Once widely considered an antibiotic and hospital associated pathogen, recent research into C. difficile has shown the infection is more frequently acquired outside of hospitals. Now, a team of researchers in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) have shown that GI disturbances, such as those caused by food poisoning and laxative abuse, trigger susceptibility to colonization by C. [...]

Work underscores C. difficile infection is not a common hospital transmission

CAMBRIDGE, MA – New research from MIT suggests the risk of becoming colonized by Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) increases immediately following gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances that result in diarrhea. Once widely considered an antibiotic and hospital associated pathogen, recent research into C. difficile has shown the infection is more frequently acquired outside of hospitals. Now, a team of researchers in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) have shown that GI disturbances, such as those caused by food poisoning and laxative abuse, trigger susceptibility to colonization by C. difficile, and carriers remain C. difficile positive for a year or longer.

“Our work helps show why the hospital and antibiotic association of C. difficile infections is an over-simplification of the risks and transmission patterns, and helps reconcile a lot of the observations that have followed the more recent revelation that transmission within hospitals is uncommon,” said David VanInsberghe, PhD, lead author of the study, ‘Diarrheal events can trigger long-term Clostridium difficile colonization with recurrent blooms’ in Nature Microbiology, published on February 10.

The researchers analyzed human gut microbiome time series studies conducted on individuals who had diarrhea illnesses and were not treated with antibiotics. Observing the colonization of C. difficile soon after the illnesses were acquired, they tested this association directly by feeding mice increasing quantities of laxatives while exposing them to non-pathogenic C. difficile spores. Their results suggest that GI disturbances create a window of susceptibility to C. difficile colonization during recovery.

Further, the researchers found that carriers shed C. difficile in highly variable amounts day-to-day; the number of C. difficile cells shed in a carrier’s stool can increase by over 1,000 times in one day. These recurrent blooms likely influence the transmissibility of C. difficile outside of hospitals and their unpredictability questions the reliability of single time-point diagnostics for detecting carriers.

“In our study, two of the people we followed with high temporal resolution became carriers outside of the hospital,” said VanInsberghe, now a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Pathology at Emory University. “The observations we made from their data helped us understand how people become susceptible to colonization and what the short- and long-term patterns in C. difficile abundance in carriers look like. Those patterns told us a lot about how C. difficile can spread between people outside of hospitals.”

The research team included Joseph A. Elsherbini, MIT graduate student; Bernard Varian, MIT’s Division of Comparative Medicine; Theofilos Poutahidis Department of Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Aristotle University, Greece; Susan Erdman, MIT’s Division of Comparative Medicine; Martin Polz, visiting professor, MIT’s Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering.

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