In previous entries I have explained what is resilience (towards wastewater treatment), and why is important. I have also explained that the measurement of resilience was going to be one of the main focus of my PhD. In this entry I will be talking about the main tool (or rather framework of tools) that will help me with the study: wastewater treatment (WWT) modelling.

08 April 2016

Fear of PhD Challenges?

Pau Gimeno (ESR5)

The assessment of global uncertainty of predictions (i.e., pharmaceutical concentrations in rivers) in environmental modeling is a key issue and still an active research area. Throughout my whole academic and professional career I have been hearing that word (uncertainty) very often. In fact, I calculated it in almost every assignment I had to carry out during my Master and, luckily, the tools available by then were sufficient to this end.

Choosing the pore size of filters to pre-treat the wastewater, before it is fed to your lab-scale column setup, is extremely important. Otherwise you will experience a conspicuous clog of the columns. Preparing the buffer solutions to be used in the fungi batch experiments, is necessary. Otherwise the pH will change and the results will not be comparable. Checking the trends of your pilot-scale installation, is the first action you should do as soon as you lift up the screen of your laptop. Otherwise you risk a too-long-stop of the pilot with all the resulting operational problems. Repeated actions, new procedures to learn, practical and theoretical doubts to be faced, recurrent meetings which show up in your agenda. Either everything is proceeding smoothly or nothing is going toward a turning point for your current research, it does not matter! Never mind! The tight schedule of a PhD student (but the same is still valid for every kind of job) could hide the aim behind all these mechanical activities. In our daily life may be that we rule out the reason why we are doing what we are doing in that very moment. We start a path, we do what we are told to do, we have filled a research plan, and day after day we tackle different situations popping up in every researcher’s life. With the aim of following up what is written in that plan. In my opinion is a fascinating and exciting job. But, sometimes I feel like I am losing my bearings. If I manage to stop for a while, raising my gaze from the mechanical operations I am doing in that very moment, I see a cloudy picture of what pushed me toward to this “water-research-field” direction. Then I take a breath. As if my life was a detail in Google Maps, I start to de-zoom, to go an higher point of view, to focus my attention on what is in the surrounding. I start to ramble on in a sort of lack of awareness. The thoughts in my mind follow this confusing sensation, and the lack of awareness become uncertainty.

Last week I attended a course on Advanced Urban Wastewater Treatment in Malmö, Sweden. The lecturers came from the academia (Lund, Aalborg and Denmark Technical universities) as well as from the industry. This broad approach to wastewater treatment was also reflected in the topics, which covered both novel technologies as well as ideas on how current technologies can be optimized. Presentations on the removal of pharmaceuticals, advanced reject water treatment and tools for evaluation of WWTP* carbon footprint were mixed with those on how to improve sludge digestion or how the choice of carbon source influence denitrification.

The latest general assembly of the Marie Curie Alumni Association 2016 in Venice attracted more than two hundred participants from all over the world – an undoubtable win for the young organization. MCAA was created in 2013 to promote career opportunities and cooperation between the current and former members of the prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, a set of scholarships awarded by the European Union to prioritized research projects.

Past week I attended to a CIWEM Urban Drainage Group Training Day 2 - ‘Use of network models for real-time operation’. The truth is, Real Time Control (RTC) has been around for a while now, but it is taking some time for it to really kick in. Why is that?

European Union Water Framework Directive (WFD) urges state members to review river basin management plans every 6 years. Hence, in the end of January, the Spanish ministry of Environment published the corresponding updated plan of the Ebro River for the period 2015-2021. However, this plan provoked plenty of controversy among stakeholders, especially, environmental organizations which seek to preserve the critical Ebro delta ecosystem, home for many protected birds and wildlife. The most important elements for the preservation of this natural park are water flow and sediments. However, dams built upriver have cut the sediment supply by 90%. Environmentalists claims that the plan allocates first water flow for irrigation and a nuclear power station, leaving the required environmental flow behind. As a consequence, massive protests against this document took place a couple of weeks ago in Amposta, a city next to the Ebro national park.

So you are a PhD student and have come to the point where you are asking yourself what you are doing with your life? Well, a PhD is supposed to be the highest academic grade awarded by universities, but what is it actually? The acronym PhD comes from the Latin-Greek philosophiae doctor which can be confusing for the contemporary non-Latin-nor-Greek speaker for whom the doctor is someone you see when you are sick and what does philosophy have to do with the wastewater treatment you are into anyways. Well, if you are familiar with Greek you might be able to figure out that philosophy actually means love of wisdom and originally this field of study incorporated natural as well as social sciences. Doctor has Latin roots and refers to a teacher or scholar.

I would like to start this post with a quote:" [...] Yet, when it comes to keeping entire societies healthy, global initiatives have to enter the picture, particularly management of clean water and pollution".