Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
The purpose of this course is to introduce students to typical experimentation and sampling methods used in environmental engineering. Topics include construction of adsorption isotherms and modeling of retardation factors for soils, breakthrough curves for aqueous species, BOD analysis, PCR, nitrogen and phosphorus analyses of freshwater samples, sampling and characterization of a groundwater aquifer, biological sampling of species from a stream, etc. Students are expected to become familiar with the process of writing scientific lab reports. Presentation and project design skills are practiced and assessed through the final project. It is expected that students have taken some sort of laboratory course prior to this one, as the principles of scientific investigation are reviewed but not covered in depth. This course is designed primarily for students on the environmental/geoengineering tracks of CEE; it is expected that students have some knowledge from introductory environmental engineering courses.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
The course is separated into a weekly precept and lab session. The precepts are mainly for orienting the lab sessions and for asking questions. There is not much formal lecturing. During the precept, it is more important to understand the professor's descriptions of the laboratory experimentation and analysis techniques rather than writing everything down that he says. If anything is unclear about the lab procedure or analysis during precept, be sure to ask questions or you will have trouble later on. Anything you write down should just be to help you remember key pieces of information that you may need during the lab or for the report (e.g. modifications to the procedure, methods of analyses to look into, pitfalls, etc.).
The main portion of the course is the actual laboratory sessions. They are designed to give students hands-on experience related to some basic experimentation and sampling methods commonly used in environmental engineering. Most will take place in a lab space, but a couple will be sampling labs outdoors. For those in a lab setting, it is important to have come to precept to learn about the objective, procedure, and methods of analysis for the lab. Strategies for success are pretty analogous to those for other lab classes. It is helpful to read the lab handout beforehand, so that you know what is going and and can get right to work once you show up to lab. You should read and annotate the entire handout and clear up any confusion with the procedure before starting the lab – this will save you a lot of time and prevent you from having to restart after investing significant time in faulty methods. For the field labs, you must do all of the above in addition to making sure you are properly outfitted for the lab following the professor's instructions.
You must write down all your observations and results during the lab sessions, as you will need to include this information in your lab reports. Don't worry about making it look extra nice; it just needs to be neat and thorough enough so that you have everything down and can understand it later when writing the report. Write everything from basic observations, preliminary results, timestamps of when you did what, and where you might have erred in the procedure. Between taking notes and beginning your lab report, you should merely make sure that you have all the information that you will need for the report. This should not consist of aggressively filling in gaps – most of the information you need should have been taken down during the lab session.
Learning For and From Assignments
There are two types of assignments – lab reports (~10) and one final project. The lab reports are designed to teach you how to analyze data collected during the labs, compile results in the form of graphs and figures, and explain your findings, shortcomings, and future work. A great source of stress for many students in lab classes is the prospect of accumulating major point deficits to your grade from "wrong" results. While Professor Jaffe emphasized the importance of being meticulous and careful with lab procedures, he was more concerned that we understood the theory behind the experiments and the expectations of what the result should have looked like based on theoretical models, rather than actually acquiring exactly what the theoretical values should have been. For this reason, it is necessary to explain what you expected the results to look like and why, what assumptions or steps might have caused you to deviate from the expectation, and how you could improve the procedure or the experimental model that serves as the basis for experimentation in order to achieve more fruitful results. As long as you are careful with your procedure, thoroughly explain what you did (and didn't do), and how that could have affected your results, you shouldn't get heavily penalized for not having exactly accurate results. In fact, accurate results are often impossible to achieve based on factors like yearly variations in the materials used, for example.
If your results are so far off the expected values that they are useless for analysis, ask the professor if you can get results from another group. If he agrees and you use someone else's data, be sure that you mention whose data it is, what might have caused your results to be unusable, and what you could have done to improve your methodology so as to ensure useable results.
The final project assesses your ability to take given data, make necessary assumptions, design and perform an analysis, and make recommendations with respect to the the implementation of a certain environmental protocol. The deliverable was a presentation of an environmental impact statement (EIS), during which students were required to analyze different scenarios of implementation and ultimately recommend the best option. This is designed to mimic common tasks and presentation methods that environmental engineers must practice in the real world. Students were evaluated on a balance of breadth and depth of their analysis. With respect to your analysis, you should weigh several different options, consider their implications separately, and discuss what the best option is based on the analysis.
One take-away from all assignments is that you will need to make assumptions. ALWAYS state your assumptions, the grounds for making those assumptions, and how those assumptions could have affected your results.
Online resources like Wikipedia are helpful for explaining equations and analyses techniques that necessary for the reports.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
I'm not sure why you would take this class unless you are a concentrator in environmental engineering or geosciences. That's because if you are not a concentrator you will likely not have the background for it, and there are much better options (workload and intensity) to fulfill your STL requirement. I found that this class was one of the most enjoyable to take in the realm of CEE and lab classes in general. The lab techniques felt relevant and practical for the real world, and the outdoor sampling labs were also very enjoyable and insightful with respect to field observations and data collection. If you are taking this class it is most likely because you do not have a choice, but it may not end up feeling like a course that you were forced to take.