My internship started in the beginning of April 2021 in my room in France. Due to Covid-19, we chose with my supervisor Anna and my advisor Raed to begin this work remotely. I had then a whole month to do researches about the removal of antibiotics from water using Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs). Antibiotic pollution is nowadays a big and concerning problem to solve. Indeed, the worldwide presence of antibiotics in water pose different problems such as the spreading of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or the poisoning of ecosystems.
Doing only the literature review for one month was very theoretical but gave me strong basics to imagine future experiments. With the help of my advisor and supervisor, I got ready for my journey in Finland and the research work in WAT laboratory.
The work was divided in two parts with Guillem, another Master Thesis student. We would both study the removal of the antibiotic Trimethoprim in pure water, but the AOPs will be shared. I would study the treatment by UV-light and ozonation while Guillem would consider ultrasound systems. We both had different setting-up but we worked together to understand the mechanisms and the results. This team work with Guillem and Raed was really rewarding because everyone has made his contribution.
I would like to thank the whole WAT team who helped me in my researches. It is a pity that COVID-19 and remote working prevented me to better know them. However, coffee breaks, lunch times and outdoor events were good opportunities to chat, to get to know each other and to learn about different cultures. This experience allowed me to discover academic work and research’s world. I wish to the WAT team success in their challenges.
Expectations vs. Reality in my Master’s thesis project
In October 2019 an interesting Master’s thesis position on “Investigating the microplastic amount and content in cruise ship wastewaters” was offered by Aalto University WAT and Evac Group. Evac provides water and waste management systems for marine, offshore, and building industries. The thesis research plan included visiting cruise ships and taking onboard wastewater samples, from which microplastic amount and content would have been analysed in the laboratories of Finnish Environment Institute as well as in SIB Labs in the University of Eastern Finland. Having previous working experience at Evac Group, I decided to apply to the thesis position and luckily, I was chosen as the thesis writer!
My thesis work started in February 2020 at the Water Lab. Having gained employee status at the Water Lab, I was granted access to the staff coffee room. It was quite fun to chat with other thesis writers, researchers and even professors on a regular basis. One discussion topic – the coronavirus – became increasingly interesting in coffee room chats, as February passed. It was not until the beginning of March that everybody started to realise that coronavirus might hit Finland too. Not too surprisingly, on March 16th the Finnish Government ordered remote studies and remote work in universities.
The pandemic affected my thesis too. It was uncertain whether international cruise ships would sail to Finland or not, so we decided to wait until May to see if we can continue with the original research plan. Essentially, between February and mid-May, I conducted a comprehensive literature review on microplastics and cruise ship wastewaters. It was not until the latter half of May that we decided to change the research plan completely. Ultimately, the chosen objective of the thesis was to estimate microplastic concentrations and loads in cruise ship grey waters through modelling. To reach this objective, I needed to gather data on ship microplastic sources as well as cruise ship wastewater flows, to create a computational tool, and to analyse the results of the tool.
Adapting to all the changes and uncertainty during my thesis process was very difficult. For example, working from home, not meeting my advisors or supervisor face to face after March, not even knowing whether I will land a job after graduation during a global pandemic, was demanding. In the end, my thesis was successful after changing the research plan, I landed a job, and I have been able to move on with life, even though the thesis period was difficult. The main lesson I learned during the thesis was that in specialist work, expectations differ from reality. Learning this has aided me to accept changes that inevitably occur in any project in working life.
I wish best of luck for all future and present thesis writers at WAT! I can share one piece of advice for thesis writers that my advisor Maria gave me: start writing as soon as possible! Not all text you write ends up in the final thesis, but that gives you material to work and refine later on.
My thesis can be found here.
By Oula Mikkola
My name is Ilaria and I was an exchange student at Aalto University during 2019-2020. During the second semester I collaborated with the on-going NPHarvest project for my Master Thesis. The project was about developing a process to recover nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from different wastewater streams. The overall process developed was based on coagulation-flocculation as a pre-treatment unit, and then a membrane reactor as nitrogen recovery unit. The Water and Wastewater Research Group gave me the opportunity to contribute to the project by bringing up new ideas on how to make the process more sustainable.
Firstly, I studied the use of natural coagulants in the pre-treatment unit on lab scale, and then we were also able to test natural coagulants on pilot scale at Viikinmäki WWTP. It was amazing for me to actually learn how to control the pilot plant and how to make it work. I also tested the membrane reactor in a new site (Ämmässuo landfill) and collected data from the nitrogen recovery unit to compare the efficiency of the membrane reactor on pilot scale, with results collected on lab scale. I am grateful for how this Research Group supported me throughout the whole project and at the same time trusted me and my ideas. This dynamic group of people made me grow up from academic and personal point of view. They were always willing to help and they made me feel part of the group from the beginning.
By Ilaria Righetto