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Civil and Environmental Engineering Students Grab Top Prizes at RISE 2019

April 19, 2019

The Research, Innovation, and Scholarship Expo (RISE), held annually at Northeastern University, is an opportunity for leaders in industry, venture capital, and entrepreneurship to experience the cutting-edge research produced by the institution’s faculty and students. Over 100 representatives from industry serve as judges during the expo to recognize top projects across a variety of disciplines, from finance and computer science to engineering and healthcare. This year, two Civil and Environmental Engineering students, Kunind Sharma and Kestral Johnston, received top awards at the expo.

Kunind Sharma is an Interdisciplinary Engineering PhD Student under his advisor, Assistant Professor Michael Kane. Kunind won the 1st Place Graduate COE Solutions Award and the Graduate Outstanding Student Research Award. The COE Solutions Award recognizes “COE students demonstrating remarkable innovation by identifying novel solutions to problems within scientific, social, and/or entrepreneurial spheres.” His work examines reducing energy consumption of HVAC systems, while maintaining thermal comfort for the people using them. Kunind and his group are analyzing thermostat user data to establish thermal comfort zones. “Since every occupant is different, their behavior to use a thermostat and their thermal comfort zones are different. We are trying to make a thermostat learn an occupant's behavior and adapt accordingly to set set-points that promote comfort.” His research has implications for improving the energy efficiency of buildings, a key goal in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Kestral Johnson is a BS/MS Environmental Engineering student, whose research was supervised by Associate Teaching Professor Annalisa Onnis-Hayden. Originally from Steamboat Springs, CO, she will graduate in May of this year.

Kestral received the Undergraduate COE Solutions Award for her research into improving clean water access. Her project proposes tidal flow constructed wetlands as a means to recycle wastewater for use in toilets, landscaping irrigation, and other non-potable uses. “My project looks at addressing two of the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges for the 21st century: providing access to clean water and managing the nitrogen cycle,” Kestral said. “Increases in water scarcity driven by rapid change in population and climate require immediate resolution through innovative systems of water reuse and conservation. A Tidal Flow Constructed Wetland (TFCW) addresses these challenges by treating wastewater on-site for non-potable reuse using biological process, little energy, and no additional chemicals.”

The award means a great deal to Kestral, who, supported by a team of fellow undergraduate researchers, worked on the project for three semesters. “We hope to influence how people view water reuse and change the stigma associated with it,” she said. She hopes that the recognition from RISE will “raise awareness of the importance of how we manage our water resources and sustainable treatment options.”