Student research focuses on keeping disinfected water safe

By Megan Bradshaw on March 29, 2018

Marella Schammel is the only North American recipient of the 2018–19 SUEZ/Vernon Lucy III Scholarship and the first from TU

Sophomore Marella Schammel won a $5,000 scholarship from the American Waterworks Association (AWWA) for her research on the chemistry of drinking water.
Sophomore Marella Schammel won a $5,000 scholarship from the American Waterworks Association (AWWA) for her research on the chemistry of drinking water.

Towson University sophomore Marella Schammel ’20 didn’t come to TU intending to study environmental chemistry. But her research could help make the water you drink even cleaner. 

Schammel’s research on the chemistry of drinking water made her the only North American recipient of the 2018-19 SUEZ/Vernon Lucy III Scholarship from the America Waterworks Association (AWWA). She is also the first student from TU to receive this $5,000 scholarship. 

She came to TU as a declared chemistry major with an interest in analytical chemistry. A conversation with assistant professor John Sivey, Ph.D., about his research in that field piqued her interest, and she applied to his research group. 

Related: Research spotlight on…John Sivey 

Related: FCSM’s John Sivey receives over $500,000 NSF CAREER grant 

Schammel’s research focuses on how to correct potential dangers in the drinking water disinfection process.  

“When we disinfect drinking water, we add bleach, which can then react with organic matter already present in the water—like leaves— to form potentially toxic disinfection by-products (DBPs),” she said. “Previous studies that our lab and other groups have done examined the formation of these DBPs in 'clean' systems (controlled pH, salinity, etc.). My research, however, looks at their formation in the natural waters that undergo disinfection.” 

Her research group collected samples from Loch Raven Reservoir, Susquehanna River, Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean and performed reactions to determine how the reaction rates in natural water compared with “clean” water systems. Schammel’s work can help improve the disinfection process to minimize DBP formation. 

She recently presented her research at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in New Orleans. Schammel will receive the SUEZ/Vernon Lucy scholarship in June at the annual AWWA conference in Las Vegas. 

“Marella is on track for a highly productive research career,” said Sivey, Schammel’s research adviser. “Her enthusiasm for research originates from a sincere interest in scientific inquiry. Marella exemplifies Towson University’s commitment to excellence in research involving undergraduates. Marella is highly deserving of this prestigious, international award.” 

The scholarship was established in recognition of Vernon D. Lucy III’s long career and involvement in the water industry as an employee and president of Infilco Degremont Inc., and in appreciation of his many years of mentorship to young industry professionals. 

This scholarship will allow me to focus on school and my research rather than on getting a job or worrying about paying for school,” Schammel said. “Because the AWWA is so specialized, the scholarship will also help me connect with people in the chemistry field and in the industry who are also interested in water and environmental chemistry.” 

Applicants must be pursuing an undergraduate degree in science or engineering; the scholarship is awarded annually and provides a monetary prize to the winner. SUEZ also provides travel assistance to the AWWA conference where the award is presented.