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Available REU Projects


Groundwater Recharge

Faculty mentors: Ken Voglesonger & Laura Sanders

Drinking water, rainfall, sewage, well water, the ocean, and cenotes: In the Yucatán, it is all connected. Surprisingly, we don’t know exactly how it is connected. Can taking water samples from these different places and analyzing their chemistry reveal the answers? This project aims to find out. Students will learn to take samples and make field analyses, create a sampling plan, and implement that plan in the field. We will field-test some samples, analyze some at the lab in Mexico, and bring some back home to do more sensitive tests. Once we have the results, we will use them to try to tease out which parts of the Yucatán are affected by human pollution, which are pristine, how the different sources of water are connected, and how we might be able to use our research to discover pathways that allow contaminants to invade clean aquifers. Potential students should have taken physical geology and general chemistry. Knowledge of or interest in hydrogeology and water chemistry is a plus. 

Water Contamination

Faculty mentors: Melissa Lenczewski, Tomoyuki Shibata, Jim Wilson 

The Riviera Maya in the Yucatán Peninsula is an opportunity to study how populations (tourists and the local population) exposed to different habitats (beaches, cenotes, and public water supplies) and behaviors (hygienic practices and sewage management) can produce risk of illness from pathogens. This project will investigate the fate of emerging waterborne contaminants and disease. Students will learn about mapping sample sites, collecting samples, recording data in the field, and performing quantitative microbial risk assessments. The results will then be used for several different projects depending on the student’s interest, including mapping and creating statistical models of risk or developing a real-time advisory system for recreational waters. This project integrates critical thinking, communication, and creativity. Knowledge of or interest in GIS concepts, public health, or water chemistry is a plus. 

Groundwater Geophysics

Faculty Mentors: Phil Carpenter & Luis Marin

This project will use geophysics to better understand the karst geology below the northeastern Yucatán Peninsula. Geophysical surveys will focus on delineation of karst conduits that control the movement of groundwater and downward percolation of contaminants, mapping the depth of the freshwater aquifer, and investigating the Holbox fracture zone. During the time in Mexico students will be divided into teams for data collection. Students will become familiar with survey layout, recording data (both manually and using data-loggers), maintaining and repairing instruments, and preliminary processing/interpretation in the field. Geophysical methods may include ground-penetrating radar (GPR), resistivity, electromagnetics, spontaneous potential, and well logging, depending on availability of equipment and field conditions.

            After returning to NIU students will complete data processing and interpretation. Geophysical anomalies will be mapped and compared with positions of surface openings to identify recharge features that should be protected. Geophysical data will be inverted to determine the depth to the saline water and variations in this depth across the field area. One year of physics is recommended.