Engineering On Trial

December 21, 2015

This fall, students in Professor Svetoslava Todorova’s Introduction to Environmental Engineering class had their day in court. As an exercise in learning about groundwater and contaminant transport in the subsurface, students analyzed a case of water contamination and took on the role of defense attorneys to defend three industries that were alleged to be to blame. The two-week long exercise was modeled after a trial in Europe in which drinking water was contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, and dichloro-ethylene. Given scientific data from a two-year monitoring program, students performed calculations and developed graphs to show the groundwater flow paths, potential travel time, and plume development for the contaminants. Once they had gathered their scientific evidence, the class was divided in three groups, each representing one of the three alleged industries. The activity culminated with a mock trial in one of the College of Law’s teaching courtrooms, where each group presented their scientific evidence to a jury of engineering freshmen. They plead their case to disprove that the companies they represented were responsible for the contamination. “I wanted my students to experience an educational exercise that promoted learning on many levels. Here they were able to provide accurate calculations, achieve a thorough understanding of the material, develop concise reports, and present scientific concepts and data in an accessible and clear manner for a general audience,” said Todorova.