A Berkeley Lab internship program involving master’s-level students from the nation’s fifth most diverse university will enter its third year in June. So far six students have completed the program, which brings talented students from Cal State University East Bay (CSUEB) in Hayward to work on research projects with scientists in Berkeley Lab’s EESA.
A competitive selection process this spring ended in the acceptance of three students who will participate in the third year cohort: Agnes Gniazdowska, Shaswat Babhulgaonkar, and Aarohi Shah. The interns will begin implementing their one-year research projects virtually next month, due to the Laboratory’s reduced on-site staffing levels. EESA scientists who will serve as intern project mentors are preparing to support students in conducting the initial aspects of their research through telework.
The pandemic response, which has interrupted field research across the globe, also requires mentors and interns who anticipated spending time this summer gathering data from nearby field sites to rethink the order of project activities. EESA researcher Craig Ulrich doesn’t expect this will hinder what his mentee Agnes Gniazdowska is able to accomplish. Instead, he views it as an opportunity for her to begin learning data processing now, before they are able to conduct the necessary field research for her project, “Multi-method Geophysical Surveying of Levees in the Sacramento Delta.”
“Although ordinarily we would have been eager to start collecting data at the field site this summer, this reverse approach works out too,” Ulrich said. “We’ve decided that there is a level of online work and remote work that Agnes can focus on initially to get up to speed with data processing. She can learn to process data now, and collect data later when we are able to access our field sites.”
The three interns will begin collaborating with their Berkeley Lab project mentors and CSUEB faculty advisors on June 1. Their three projects are described below.
Multi-method Geophysical Surveying of Levees in the Sacramento Delta
Agnes Gniazdowska studied geology in her native Poland before coming to California to pursue a master’s degree in environmental geosciences at CSUEB. She will be working with CSUEB faculty advisor Mitchell Craig and Berkeley Lab mentor Craig Ulrich to implement a project focused on evaluating the structural health of a section of levee located in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta using geophysical monitoring.
“We’ll be using geophysical surveying to identify signs of weaknesses in the levee–spots that are atypically wet or dry, for example,” said EESA researcher Craig Ulrich. “We will be gathering seismic data, elevation data, electrical resistivity data, and EM data that can be analyzed to predict what would happen to the levee for example if a fault were to slip causing an earthquake in that region.”
Machine Learning Prediction of Fracture Growth as a Result of Hydro-Mechanical Coupling in Geological Media
Shaswat Babhulgaonkar is a master’s-level student of Computer Science at CSUEB who will work with Berkeley Lab mentor Mengsu Hu and CSUEB faculty advisor Zahra Derakhshandeh on a first-of-its-kind project using machine learning to predict fracture growth in different types of rocks present in the Earth’s subsurface.
Hu explained that it can be challenging to predict the trajectory of fractures in the subsurface because of the potential for new fractures created due to coupled hydro-mechanical processes and their intersections with natural fractures, resulting in complex, dynamic fracture networks in the subsurface.
“An underground fracture network is similar to a transportation route in an urban area, with all of its offshoots and endpoints,” explained Hu. “But unlike a transportation network, the fracture network in the subsurface is not likely to stay the same. And we don’t know the impact of fluid injection or natural fractures on fracture evolution. Using machine learning allows us to assess these impacts.”
Investigation of Treatment Options for the Removal of Boron from Produced Water
Aarohi Shah, who is pursuing a master’s degree in biochemistry at CSUEB, will work with Berkeley Lab mentor Will Stringfellow and CSUEB faculty advisor Ruth Tinnacher to investigate the potential for boron in produced water to be adsorbed by different natural materials.
“Much of the water produced by the oil and gas industries is low in salinity, but high in boron. If boron, which is inhibitory to plants, were removed, the water could be reused in agriculture,” said Stringfellow. “There are commercially available ion-exchange resins capable of removing boron. We are investigating natural materials–most of them based on plant matter–which ultimately may not be as efficient as the commercially available resins but have the potential to be less expensive.”
If proven an effective natural resin capable of boron adsorption, an opportunity would exist to turn the agricultural waste produced in the cultivation of so many of the crops cultivated in California’s Central Valley into treatment media for the removal of boron from produced water.
The three students were welcomed at a virtual reception held on May 27. During the same virtual event, interns who participated in the second program cohort term which is finishing up this month shared information about the results of their research.