Swiss sabbatical opens new opportunities

// Civil & Environmental Engineering

Tags: 2019, Faculty, News

Photo of Christy Remucal

Christy Remucal takes a break from sledding at Mount Pilatus. Submitted photo.

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Sure, Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Christy Remucal misses seeing her students and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a daily basis. And she had to cope with a winter without much snow or frozen lakes.

But there are some perks to spending the 2018-19 academic year in Zurich, Switzerland.

“We live a 10-minute walk away from the train station,” says Remucal, who’s on sabbatical leave. “You get on a train, you ride a gondola, you go hiking.”

Of course, Remucal is doing much more than exploring the Swiss Alps during her stay in Zurich. Remucal, who studies water quality, is using the time abroad to build new research collaborations while splitting the year between two respected institutions: ETH Zurich, where she previously spent three years as a postdoctoral associate, and Eawag (the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology).

“Switzerland, and Zurich specifically, has some of the best water research going on in the world,” says Remucal.

At ETH, Remucal is working with Professor Kristopher McNeill and Senior Scientist Michael Sander to study dissolved organic matter, which can cause chemicals in water to degrade. While Remucal’s research group at UW-Madison generally uses high-resolution mass spectrometry and ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy to measure the reactivity of dissolved organic matter, Sander employs an electrochemical-based technique.

During the second half of the year, Remucal will work with Professor Urs Von Gunten, a leading expert on the use of ozone for disinfecting drinking water, a tactic used more widely in Europe than the United States. Disinfectants are crucial to killing off pathogens in water, but they can also react with dissolved organic matter to produce harmful byproducts. Remucal will examine how ozone reacts with dissolved organic matter.

In between working in the lab, writing research proposals and giving seminar talks, she’s still meeting weekly with her six PhD students via video conferencing.

“I spend a lot of time on Zoom,” she says with a laugh.

Remucal says her experience in Zurich will lead to further research opportunities after she returns to Madison. She’s also using the time away to plot new directions, such as looking at perfluorinated chemicals, a type of contaminant that’s increasingly showing up in Wisconsin.

Author: Tom Ziemer