Monday, February 28, 2011

University of Oklahoma Student Receives Oklahoma Transportation Center's Student of the Year Award

Feb. 10, 2011

By Amy Buchanan
University of Oklahoma
College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences

Pictured (L-R): Musharraf Zaman, OU College of Engineering associate dean of research and graduate programs; Jewellyn Grout, spouse; Trevor Grout, OU engineering student; Michelle McFarland, Oklahoma Transportation Center assistant director; and Tony Dark, OTC executive director.

NORMAN, Okla.—Trevor Grout, engineering graduate student at the University of Oklahoma’s Atmospheric Radar Research Center, was presented with the Oklahoma Transportation Center’s student of the year award at the 14th annual Council of University Transportation Centers’ award banquet, held recently in Washington, D.C.

Grout was the only one from Oklahoma among the 60 recipients recognized nationally for outstanding achievement in and contribution to transportation research and education. Since July 2009, Grout has been working with collaborators on a project titled “Proactive Approach to Transportation Resource Allocation under Severe Weather Emergencies.” The goal of the project is to develop tools that aid maintenance managers in making resource allocation and deployment decisions to mitigate severe winter weather.

“Trevor is a unique fit for this project as it necessitates the need for a multidisciplinary approach from both a meteorological and engineering perspective,” said Yang Hong, associate professor in OU’s School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Sciences. “Trevor’s background with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology, as well as working towards his master of science in civil engineering degree, undoubtedly gives him a great advantage. This award truly testifies the interdisciplinary weather enterprise at OU.”

OU Team Targeting Tar Creek

By April Wilkerson
April is a reporter in Oklahoma City. Contact her at 278-2849.
Posted: 09:27 PM Friday, February 25, 2011

OKLAHOMA CITY – Although their initial project money has run out, University of Oklahoma professor Robert Nairn and his research team are looking for ways to continue their water restoration work at the Tar Creek Superfund Site in northeastern Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, the passive water treatment approach his team uses is being implemented in Bolivia.

Nairn, who also serves as director of OU’s Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds, is looking for new grant possibilities after finishing a $6 million project at Tar Creek that removes contaminants from water seeping up from mines. That initial system is still running, but the contaminants it captures are only the tip of the iceberg.

“The polluted water is still coming out of the ground, and we’ve done calculations of how long that will last,” Nairn said. “Those calculations indicate that the water quality problems from the underground mines will probably be a problem for few centuries. We’re only addressing a fraction of the underground mine waters, so there’s a number of streams that still have a pollution problem.”

Beaver Creek, which is culturally significant to the Quapaw Tribe, is another affected area, he said. He estimates $25 million is needed to treat polluted water emerging from the mines.

Nairn and his team began researching the water quality problems at Tar Creek in 1998. He previously worked for the now-defunct U.S. Bureau of Land Mines, where he gained experience with the passive water treatment approach.

The system at Tar Creek, completed in 2008, requires little maintenance and no electricity to operate. Rather, the system relies on gravity and natural bacteria to remove the iron, zinc, lead, cadmium and arsenic in the water coming up from the mines.

“With all the holes in the ground, that polluted water discharges to the surface and flows out into the streams,” he said. “At this particular location, there were discharges of water that worked their way into a tributary and into Tar Creek. We came up with a design that we thought would be effective.”

The first step in the process is to put air into the water, accomplished by a large surface area. The focus then turns to removing the iron, which has turned the water bright orange, Nairn said. The next step involves making the water flow vertically through a pond that is filled with organic material, which breaks down the contaminants. That organic material is relatively simple: mushroom compost mixed with wood chips.

Because that step removes the oxygen, it receives another infusion of air by wind- and solar-powered aeration pumps. A few more steps serve to “polish” the water before it is discharged back into the stream.

“The whole thing works by gravity flow,” he said. “No pumps, no fossil fuel consumption. Once in place, the design lifetime is about three decades with a limited amount of operation and maintenance. We visit on a quarterly basis since our funding ended, to take water samples and make sure everything is working properly.”

The passive water treatment system is appropriate for Tar Creek, Nairn said, because no one is drinking the water in that area, and more traditional treatments would be cost-prohibitive. “Active” treatment systems are effective, but involve caustic chemicals and significant labor, maintenance and capital.

Nairn’s system cost $3 million – about $1 million to construct and $2 million for the design and data collection, he said. The rest of the original $6 million was spent on a larger remediation and restoration monitoring program.

The OU research team also is exploring ways to recycle some of the contaminants captured from the water. Some of his colleagues in the East are recovering materials, particularly iron oxides, for use in pigment production, such as colors for concrete and brick.

“The big difference is that they’re working with coal mines that don’t have the same chemistry as the lead zinc mines here,” he said. “There’s a little difference in chemistry that we’re exploring. The expectation isn’t that anyone would make money on recovering these materials, but we might be able to produce some revenue that helps maintain and operate the system.”

Although the Tar Creek site is a tremendous pollution problem, it also serves as a major learning opportunity for Nairn’s students. That education goes far beyond the science and technology of putting such a system in place.

“We do a great job of technically preparing our students, but the real world includes lots of other factors,” he said. “To get them up into the watershed and examine the social and cultural issues, especially with tribes, gives them a different perspective on the environment pollution problems and our efforts to fix them. You can have the best technologies and good science and engineering, but you need to be able to effectively communicate and understand other folks’ perspectives. The Tar Creek watershed gives that opportunity on a grand scale.”

Nairn’s team is taking that philosophy to Bolivia, where work is under way on a passive water treatment system in the high desert of the Andes. There, the local people are still using the contaminated water for irrigation and other uses.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CNN Hero Award Winner Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe to Speak About Work in Uganda

NORMAN – The Center for Social Justice, along with the University of Oklahoma Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Sooners Without Borders, and Pros for Africa, will host a talk with Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe about her work with rape victims in Africa, Monday, Feb 21. The event, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Dale Hall, Room 200, 455 W. Lindsey, on the OU Norman campus. Free parking will be available in the parking lot immediately to the west and north of Dale Hall.

Nyirumbe is a Ugandan who was named a CNN Hero for her work with rape victims in Africa. She began the St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring School in Gulu, Uganda, to give shelter to girls and women who have been abducted by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Many of these young women were raped by their abductors and now have children. The St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring School empowers women and teaches them the skills necessary to make a living for themselves and their children.

Former Sooner Roy Williams, who works with Pros for Africa, will introduce Sister Rosemary. PFA is a nonprofit relief organization headquartered in Oklahoma City. PFA was founded in 2009 by Reggie Whitten, Bill Horn, Jay Mitchel, Jared Mitchel, Adrian Peterson, Tommie Harris, Roy Williams and Mark Clayton. PFA sends representatives to African nations to “provide food, water, clothing, medicine and other necessities to disadvantaged children of war, poverty and natural disaster.” ( For more information, visit

The Center for Social Justice is an initiative of the OU Women’s and Gender Studies Program, established in 2009 to promote gender justice, equality, tolerance, and human rights through local and global engagement.

Sooners Without Borders is a registered student organization of OU. The organization encourages collaboration across disciplines and is devoted to finding sustainable solutions for water, health, education, development and peace.

For more information about the event and for accommodations on the basis of disability, contact the Center for Social Justice at or call (405) 325-5787.

Friday, February 11, 2011



Contact: Catherine Bishop, Vice President
OU Public Affairs, (405) 325-1543 or
Joanne Thomson, Marketing Manager
CORIX Group of Companies, (604) 575-6136

OKLAHOMA CITY – University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren announced today that OU is establishing an Institute for Water and Sustainability using the University’s research expertise to benefit Oklahoma and the nation, including emerging regions of the world. The institute will be led by a national expert, who will be appointed to an endowed faculty position funded by a $2 million gift from Corix, a multi-utility infrastructure company, which is in a long-term association with OU in its utility system. The Institute will include the new Oklahoma Water Survey patterned on the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which is also housed at OU.

“The formation of the Corix Institute was guided by the importance of understanding and managing water in all its dimensions,” Boren said. “The demand for water to sustain life and the economy as well as for its natural beauty presents challenges for many organizations involved in its protection and management.

The Corix Institute seeks to bring together experts from many disciplines to understand the complexity of this precious natural resource and to provide research and data for leaders to make informed decisions regarding its conservation and use.”

“The endowment to help set up the Corix Institute is consistent with our commitment to both sustainability and investing in the communities where we work,” said Brett Hodson, President and CEO of Corix. “It also builds on our unique collaboration with OU, which we believe is the first of its kind between a company like Corix and a major university in the United States.”

The Corix Institute, which will be located within the National Weather Center, will consist of three programs: the established and internationally noted Water Technologies for Emerging Regions Center; the Oklahoma Water Survey, a new program that will be created; and a future program focused upon water and sustainability in critical regions. The Institute will be led by an established expert to be identified in a national search, which will begin immediately. In the interim, Paul Risser, chairman and chief operating officer of OU’s Research Cabinet, will guide the institute’s activities.

Water Technologies for Emerging Regions Center conducts extensive international research, using innovative technologies to provide clean water and better sanitation to emerging regions of the world. Led by OU Professor David Sabatini, this program has achieved international recognition and provides outstanding learning experiences for OU students, who work throughout the world as well as in some areas of the United States.

The Oklahoma Water Survey will be modeled after the University’s four existing natural resource surveys: the Archeological, Biological, Climatological and Geological surveys. The Water Survey will serve as the focal point within the University to bring together experts in water research from multiple disciplines. The Survey also will serve as a contact point for collaborating with all those people, organizations, agencies and municipalities external to the University who want to tap into the expertise and the water-related data and information. The search for the director of the Oklahoma Water Survey will begin within the year.

Because water is so important, complex and multidimensional, federal, state tribal and municipal governments are engaged in its protection and management, including addressing legal and policy challenges arising from competing demands for the same water supply. In Oklahoma, seven state agencies are charged with jurisdictional responsibility for water. Within the Corix Institute, the Oklahoma Water Survey will serve as a point of contact for the agencies, synthesizing complex data and providing a center location where information can be accessed.

One of the first tasks of the Oklahoma Water Survey will be to collaborate with state agencies and tribal governments to complete the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan to achieve the best possible blueprint for the future understanding and management of Oklahoma’s water resources.