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Senior thesis project probes intricacies of groundwater cleanup

June 8th, 2020

Audrey Shih entered Princeton with aspirations of using science to protect vulnerable people from allergens. “I have a severe peanut allergy, and I thought I might help come up with a method to detect allergens in food,” said Shih.

After declaring her concentration in chemical and biological engineering (CBE) and beginning her coursework in the department, “my interest shifted more toward materials science and the more physical than biological side of CBE,” she said.

An email to Sujit Datta, an assistant professor in the department, launched Shih on a two-year-long research project to help thwart a different type of chemical threat: pollutants like crude oil and mercury that can linger in groundwater even after major cleanup efforts. In Datta’s lab, she investigated how specialized materials act to remove recalcitrant pollutants.

Shih, a member of the Class of 2020, finished writing her senior thesis on the topic from her family’s home in Columbus, Ohio, after the University halted on-campus instruction and research activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In recognition of her thesis work, Shih was one of two graduating seniors presented with the engineering school’s Lore von Jaskowsky Memorial Prize for Contributions to Research during Class Day celebrations on June 1. Shih, who completed a certificate in materials science and engineering in addition to her CBE concentration, also received an outstanding senior thesis award from the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials.

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