661: Abby Schaefer on Woodchip Bioreactors.
Reducing agricultural nitrogen runoff into rivers and oceans.
In This Podcast:
Abby Schaefer didn’t know what she wanted to do when she started college, but she went with the flow and turned her love of chemistry into a career studying water as a bio-systems engineer. Abby studies woodchip bioreactors, a relatively new technology which harnesses the power of microbes to remove excess nitrogen from agricultural waste water. She explains what they are and how they work to prevent dangerous dead zones downstream.
Abby Schaefer is a research scientist and engineer in Michelle Soupir’s Water Quality Research Lab in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering department at Iowa State University. Abby solves water quantity and quality problems, and loves microbes, data analysis, and programming. She is the 2020 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Pre-Professional Engineer of the Year, and her research was recently published in Agrosystems, Geosciences, & Environment.
Listen in and learn about:
- Enjoying chemistry, pivoting into engineering
- Defining the broad field of bio-systems engineering
- Sparking Abby’s interest in water quality – a farm in Iowa and a city in Peru
- Explaining the ‘flavors’ of nitrogen
- Creating a perfect storm for nitrogen runoff
- Removing nitrates from water with a woodchip bioreactor
- Cleaning the water and preventing algae blooms downstream
- Using the broken-down woodchips approximately 10 years later
- Determining how the water retention time impacts woodchip properties
- Abby’s published paper:
Loving those ubiquitous microbes
As well as:
Her failure – Failing a test in her first semester (Got that out of the way!)
Her success – Getting a master’s degree
Her drive – “Really, it’s people.”
Her advice – “You need to hear that it is ok to not know what you are going to do. You will figure it out and it will be ok.”
Abby’s Book recommendation:
How to reach Abby:
Some of the links in our podcast show notes and blog posts are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase, we will earn a nominal commission at no cost to you. We offer links to items recommended by our podcast guests and guest writers as a service to our audience and these items are not selected because of the commission we receive from your purchases. We know the decision is yours, and whether you decide to buy something is completely up to you.