ECU engineering student wins award at regional environmental conference

East Carolina University engineering student Ariel Lineberger says the key to award-winning research starts with a simple question.

“For students who want to be involved in research, always ask the professor about how you can become involved because there is a lot going on here,” Lineberger said. “Just ask for the opportunity to be more involved, and they are more than willing to help you and get you involved in a lab or outside on some project that they have.”

ECU engineering student Ariel Lineberger holds her award certificate from the Georgia Environmental Conference. (Contributed photo)

For her research, Lineberger recently received the Student Scholarship Program Award in the undergraduate category at the 16th annual Georgia Environmental Conference in Jekyll Island, Georgia. The event for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 includes North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Lineberger’s research looked at nutrient adsorption using 3D printed materials through a company called Natrx in Raleigh.

“Natrx produces these materials for coastal resiliency, mainly for coastal erosion and coastal runoff as these nutrients can cause harmful algal blooms, so it’s about reducing those and reducing that harmful runoff,” Lineberger said. “What we tried to do is get these materials in the form of rocks that can go along embankments to reduce the erosion that’s happening along inland streams and coastal areas.”

In simulations, the materials did well in reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonium, Lineberger said, offering a potential way to improve water quality. That the research received recognized was a bonus, she said.

“I thought it was great that our research was able to go out and win, and have results that would be beneficial to the area, not only for the east coast of North Carolina, but also for western North Carolina with their rivers,” Lineberger said.

She said she presented the research in a 10-minute session and then answered questions for all attendees during a session in which secret judges participated. She admitted to surprise when she received the award.

“I was so overwhelmed with the conference being such a good experience, and then to see the other research that was going on that all concerned the environment but with different aspects,” Lineberger said. “One of the projects was about urban planning, and it was so different that I wasn’t sure how the judges were going to pick.”

She encouraged other students to participate in research competitions and conferences.

“Students should take advantage of opportunities like this,” Lineberger said. “It’s trusting your intuition and trusting yourself and your capabilities. You can get more experience and meet new people. Take the risk and put yourself out there.”

The conference featured more than 800 government officials, business leaders and environmental experts. Breakout sessions, exhibits and networking focused on providing ways to positively affect the environment throughout the Southeast.

“It was a good experience, and I was honored to be there,” Lineberger said.

The senior from Nebo in western North Carolina is no stranger to recognition. Last year she was the only undergraduate student in the country to receive the American Water Resources (AWRA) Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Scholarship. She also works with ECU’s Center for Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering on an EPA grant that focuses on pollution prevention in industry.