Interview with Graduate Student – LeighAnn D’Andrea

Research Interview with LeighAnn D’Andrea:

Author: Stephen Stamegna

Background:LeighAnn D’Andrea is a second year Masters student and a graduate member of the Kumpel Research Group at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is currently pursuing her Masters project in the field of drinking water quality and citizen science.

Q:     Could you tell me a little bit about your Master’s research?

A:     My project is focused on the potential of citizen science f
or collecting data about drinking water. Citizen science has been used in monitoring groundwater and surface water quality, but there hasn’t been much research in at-home drinking water quality. We are researching the potential of citizen scientists to test and record different drinking water quality parameters of the water in their homes. We’re doing this by conducting trials on different test kits that citizens can use to treat their water.

Q:        What do you hope to achieve through this research?

A:        The end goal is to work toward some sort of social media input system where anybody anywhere could simply type in what they found about their drinking water quality and the information could all be stored in one place. That way if there is some issue with drinking water quality in a community, an alert could go out to everybody who is receiving water from that source. Another goal is to help citizens take ownership of their drinking water.

Q:        As of now, what are your methods for conducting the lab tests?

A:        Using a list of contaminants that we want to test with each of the waterquality test kits, solutions of known concentrations are made for each of the contaminants in the lab. Then, the kits are used to test the concentrations of each of the solutions with the intent of determining how accurate each kit is. The kits that prove to produce accurate readings are given to citizen scientists, at which point we can determine how user-friendly the kits are based on the citizens’ experiences. The whole point is to find a kit that is both accurate and easy to use.

Q:        Have you experienced any complications in your research?

A:        Yes, there are basic lab complications that occur. I don’t always know a lot about how different chemicals react with each other, so it’s a lot of trial and error. Also, becoming familiar with the research process is always a work in progress.

Q:        Have you figured out how to solve those complications?

A:        Asking for help from my peers has been a huge help. There is also a lot of literature that is useful when trying to solve different types of problems.

Q:        How does your research relate to the research group at large?

A:        It falls in place with the overarching theme of ensuring that communities have access to safe drinking water. We want communities and individuals to take ownership of the safety of their drinking water.

Q:        Why did you go to graduate school?

A:        I wanted to take my education one step further. The topics that I’m most passionate about are drinking water quality and working with people to make sure that they have safe water to drink. I figured that graduate school would be a great opportunity to learn more about this field.

Q:        Why did you choose your project in particular?

A:        I got really sick in Peru from drinking water and that was the reason that motivated me to study water quality. I got sick with Giardia and it opened my eyes to the fact that people shouldn’t get sick from a basic requirement of life like water.

Q:    What are your plans for after graduation?

A:     I enter Active Duty on May 12thand I will be stationed at Cannon Air Force Base. I’ll be with their Civil Engineering Special Operations Squadron as an Officer of Civil Engineering. Cannon Air Force Base is the Air Force’s Special Operations Command