Megan Sawyer

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Megan Sawyer

Research in Barcelona, Spain

Year: Senior
Major: Civil Engineering
Hometown: Anchorage, Ak.
Program: International Engineering Certificate in Spanish

I spent the summer of 2012 in Barcelona, Spain participating in research at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. UPC is the largest engineering university in Catalonia, an autonomous community in northeast Spain. My placement was in the hydrogeology group, where I worked doing research on river-aquifer interaction.

My project was to model the effect of daily temperature on infiltration rates in the partially-saturated zone below a river bed. The results of this model were necessary to show that the temperature-dependent effects of soil mechanics on infiltration are negligible when compared to microbial proliferation in the clogging layer due to temperature increases.

For this project I created mathematical model of infiltration in a soil column with Richard’s equation, which I manipulated to include a temperature variable. This is a partial differential equation which required an iterative solution using finite difference method carried out in MATLAB.

My experience was amazing. From an academic standpoint, I got my first taste of graduate research and independent learning. I also gained an interest in high-level engineering topics such as mathematical modeling that I never thought I would be interested in.

I made great friends who welcomed me into the wonderful Catalan culture, and I not only got to practice my Spanish, but also learned some of their language, Catalan. I was able to walk to the iconic Sagrada Familia from my apartment; visit the monastery of Montserrat; attend the Catalan festival of La Patum in the Pyrenees mountains; visit  the ancient Roman ruins of Tarragona;  travel to medieval city of Girona; and go to wonderful beaches such as Tossa de Mar, Sitges, and Roses.

It was an incredible experience that I could not have gained as a tourist or traveling with a group of other students. I recommend anyone to take advantage of this program if they have the opportunity.

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