Summer Undergraduate Research Mentored Experience

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Dr. Ivonne Santiago

Department of Civil Engineering

Natural zeolite and pecan shells for salinity control,moisture retention and slow-release fertilizer

Preferred major field of study or minimum required skills

  • Basic knowledge of chemistry and geology, and have been exposed to a chemical laboratory.
  • A basic knowledge of statistical concepts is prefered.
  • Should be proficient in Microsoft Word and Excel.

Scholarly significance/intellectual merit

Innovative, efficient, inexpensive and environmentally acceptable alternatives, such as the use of natural materials like zeolite and agricultural waste such as pecan shells are needed to abate salt-affected soils, improve water use efficiencies, and optimize the amount of fertilizer applied to crops and fields. Saline soils occupy more than 20% of the irrigated lands and results in reduced crop yield. Use of water for agriculture accounts for more than 70% of all water withdrawals, so addressing conservation issues in agriculture are important to the effective management of our world water supplies Agriculture is one of the largest sources of nitrogen pollution as it is common practice to uniformly apply fertilizer everywhere irrespective of variables such as geology or natural nitrate reducing capacity in the soil. Excess nitrogen may be leached into the subsoil and enter the ground water and/or be carried by stormwater and agricultural return flows into surface water reservoirs impairing sources for drinking water due to eutrophication.

Research question(s)

The research questions that drives the experimental design of this project are:

  1. Can we use natural zeolite and pecan shells as soil amendment for moisture and salinity control?
  2. Can we effectively use surface modified zeolite as slow-release fertilizer in agricultural applications?
  3. Can we use zeolite for treatment of marginal saline water and agricultural return flows?

Methods/techniques/instruments to be learned/utilized

Student will perform kinetic and equilibrium batch and column studies and will learn how to analyze isotherm and column data, how design experiments, and perform basic statistical analysis techniques using Minitab software. Student will learn to use analytical equipment consisting of basic pH, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity measurements, as well as an ion analyzer and a soil moisture meter.