The University of IowaAnnual Report 2008-09


Engineering students embrace educational opportunity

Keri Hornbuckle, Professor, civil/environmental engineering

Our study is focused on looking at mobilization of chemicals and sediments as a result of the flood in Cedar Rapids and how the flood brought pollutants into the residential part of the city.

We got the funding in August and immediately we tried to figure out how are we going to collect all these samples—how are we going to do this? We wrote students who we thought might be interested. I wrote all of the students in my department—this was summer, I didn’t know who was around—I said, ‘Hey, if you’re interested in doing a science project in Cedar Rapids, give me a call,’ and a lot of them did. So all students were e-mailed: if you want to come, we’ve got vans ready, please show up at 8 o’clock in the morning and we’ll give you GPSs and shovels and we’ll fan out over the city! And that’s pretty much what we did.

I suspect what we will find are things we didn’t expect to find. First of all, we hope that we can see a difference in the chemical signatures in the flood zone and out of the flood zone. So we will first of all just compare the soils that are in the flood, out of the flood. In Cedar Rapids, the line between those two areas is very clear. When you go to Cedar Rapids, you can walk in Time Check Neighborhood and you can walk across the street that wasn’t flooded and you see these nice, neat, lovely, cared-for homes. When you walk into the flood zone, half a block, and you see houses that look like they’d been neglected for 50 years—it was really just one month of damage, but the impact was so great. So we think that it’s possible that the chemical signatures in the soil will also look as clear in difference—that will be interesting all by itself.

By walking through those communities, taking soil samples and talking to people who lived in those homes, the students learned a huge amount about the impact of this kind of event on a city. [It’s] something I never could have taught them in a classroom, nor could I ever have orchestrated to teach them; it was something the community did.

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