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Sasha Minjarez | January 28, 2022

Civil Engineering Student Participates in NSF’s CBBG Internship

Civil Engineering Student Participates in NSF’s CBBG Internship


During the summer of 2021, Vianney Luna, a senior student in the Department of Civil Engineering at The University of Texas at El Paso, participated in an internship at New Mexico State University’s Center for Bio-mediated & Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG), a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Engineering Research Center. The internship was part of a project to remove arsenic from drinking water by utilizing a microbial enhanced zeolite system.

“I am taken aback by how we take water for granted. You think about the United States and assume everyone has running, and safe, drinking water, but that is just not always the case,” Luna said.

The consumption of a high concentration of arsenic can cause extremely detrimental health effects, the fundamental purpose of the project was to develop a cost-effective alternative to arsenic removal. Arsenic removal is particularly significant considering its biological ever presence as a result of naturally occurring manifestations from natural deposits to byproducts of mining.

Over the course of the NSF internship, Luna had the opportunity to collect daily samples from built-in filtration systems to test arsenic concentration levels in the water and interpret the results. Luna believes that the importance of internships lies in preparing students for their professional pursuits by allowing them to better grasp concepts in a hands-on environment whereas the classroom may be limited to theoretical concepts.

“I had a lot of hands-on work with guidance from my graduate mentor, Tory Quary and eventually independent work in the lab towards the end of my research experience. Civil engineering is such a broad career field, and I am so grateful I have found a topic I am interested in pursuing,” Luna said.

Passionate about service and giving back, Luna serves as an undergraduate research assistant performing water research under the leadership of Shane Walker, Ph.D., associate professor, at the Center for Inland Desalination Systems where the vision is to make sure that every person in the world has clean water. She is heavily involved in student organizations and community engagement. She is the historian for the American Society of Civil Engineers and a member of The Society of Women in Engineering, Chi Epsilon National Civil Engineering Honor Society and Engineers for a Sustainable World.

“I am half Native American and during a national conference, United National Indian Tribal Youth, I met various tribal youth councils from all over the United States. From that conference, I learned there is a shortage of water in the Navajo Nation. The reservation land is rural and the city cannot connect pipes or sewage systems that far out because of costs so they must rely on wells and water from nearby rivers which might have trace metals such as arsenic. I was inspired by this newly found information to help in any way I can,” Luna said.

She is also the first civil engineer in her family and as a tribal member of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo localized in El Paso, Texas and former Tribal Youth Council Governor, Luna deeply roots her inspiration for entering the engineering field in her heritage.

Civil Engineering

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