CEAS Graduate is Awarded for Best Master’s Thesis

By: Liz Daubenmire

Stephanie Miller, former M.S. student in environmental science, recently won the American Water Works Association's Second Place  Academic Achievement Award for Best Master’s Thesis in 2015.​

Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller’s thesis titled, Investigation of Lead Solubility and Orthophosphate Addition in High pH Low DIC Water focuses on the addition of corrosion inhibiting chemicals into still-in-use lead pipes which carry water.

Her work, conducted at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Chemist Michael Schock, resulted in outstanding recognition from the American Water Works Association, earning second place for the 2015 Academic Achievement Award for Best Master’s Thesis. 

Stephanie explains the origin of her studies with a little history on topic: “Believe it or not, there are many lead pipes still in use in the United States in drinking water distribution systems. They are typically found as service lines, which is the pipe that carries drinking water from water mains in the street to plumbing in homes and buildings.

The installation of lead pipes was officially banned in the late 1980's, but their installation was common in pre-World War II construction. They are costly to replace, so there are thousands (perhaps millions) still being used in the United States. When these pipes corrode, lead gets into the water and can wind up in your glass. Thankfully, lead levels in drinking water are regulated to 15 micrograms/liter. Drinking water utilities often add corrosion inhibiting chemicals, such as phosphate, to the water to help keep lead levels down. This treatment is most effective in a certain range of pH, but a lot of utilities (due to variations in source water) operate outside this range.”

To investigate this problem, Miller’s thesis specifically examined the addition of orthophosphate at high pH to see if some corrosion inhibiting benefit could be observed, even outside the optimum pH range.

When asked about her project, Miller writes, “I would have to say that my thesis topic chose me.  My topic was an area of interest that Mr. Schock wanted to investigate, so I took it on when I began my research traineeship.”

She continues by saying, “The more I learned about my area of research, the more passionate I became about it. Lead corrosion in drinking water distribution systems is a major public health risk, and young children are especially vulnerable to any amount of lead exposure. I love being able to contribute to the general body of knowledge on lead corrosion mitigation, and I hope that my research may help improve public health.”

Miller expresses her gratitude in winning this award and says, “I feel completely honored and surprised! It's nice to see that putting in lots of hard work and dedication can reap rewards… I also feel very grateful to the people who helped me along the way, including my advisers Mike Schock and Dr. Dionysiou, and my committee member Dr. Sorial.”

Miller graduated in August 2014 and has been working as an Environmental Consultant with Trinity Consultants in Pittsburgh, PA.  She says, “I am so grateful for the opportunities and the great education I received at UC. I really feel that the MS program set me up for success. I look forward to a long career protecting human health and the environment.”  Congratulations to hard working CEAS alumnus, Stephanie Miller, who continue to achieve far above the standard level of excellence.