Two UNL Civil Engineering students, Zach Mahon and Alison Kathol, recently traveled to the Czech Republic to study the flow of water through the Vadose Zone, the soil between the surface of the earth and the water table. The research program, which uses X-ray computed tomography (X-ray CT) to track the movement of water through the soil, is part of a collaboration between the University Nebraska–Lincoln and the Czech Technical University at Prague.
Zach Mahon is working towards his Master’s Degree at UNO. He is studying final coverage for landfills after they have closed. He was encouraged by his advisor, Dr. Shannon Bartelt-Hunt, to pursue this research experience as it lined up with his own research interests. “Studying how water moves through soil is closely related to the research I am doing because you don’t want any water to reach the waste after final coverage,” Mahon said. “I was telling Dr. Bartelt-Hunt how one of my regrets from undergrad was not going abroad, and she sent me an email with the information on this project because it was so closely related to the work I am doing.”
Alison Kathol, a grad student at UNL, has been studying transportation engineering. She began taking water resources engineering courses, and was encouraged to participate in the study after encouragement from one of her instructors, Dr. David Admiraal. “Water and transportation are closely related,” Kathol said. “With this study, I can apply what I learn to my current transportation studies, or move towards more water resources work in the future.”
The students assisted with sample collection in the field, gathering soil from the Šumava forest and measuring its water content. After collecting samples, the students were responsible for transporting them to the X-ray CT examination site at Brno University of Technology. Most samples were small, about two inches in diameter and an inch tall, but the students had to think creatively when transporting larger samples. “We had to use the public transit system to transport the samples,” Kathol said. “For the largest one, which was about 12 inches around and two feet tall, we put a hat on the container and taped a transit pass to it. It was so big, it had its own spot on the bus!”
Kathol and Mahon said the group had enough time for travel in tourism in and around Prague. Mahon said he gained an appreciation for the architecture and history of the region.
“It’s amazing to see these huge cathedrals they have,” Mahon said. “In the Czech Republic, the lingering effects of WWII are much more pronounced than here in the U.S. We stayed in a house in the Šumava Mountains owned by a CTU professor who was able to purchase it because the German citizens who had been living there at the end of WWII were kicked out by the communist government formed at the end of the war.”
Kathol visited Paris, London and Vienna, and said Prague was her favorite city.
“Everything in Prague is completely in Czech. All the food, the transportation, everything,” Kathol said. “It’s much less Americanized than cities like London.”
The members of the research team are currently working on a report of their finding for the National Science Foundation, and plan to show their findings at various conferences around the region.
Dr. Chittaranjan Ray is the primary investigator on the project. For more information, please see the project’s webpage.
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