National Science Foundation International Research Experience Opportunity

Program: Assess Sustainable Sanitation and Drinking Water Quality in Developing Countries, May – June, 2009

Under a grant from the National Science Foundation, the department of geography/planning at Buffalo State, in collaboration with the department of biology at EMU, offers an international research experience for up to six undergraduates. Participating students will spend nearly six weeks in May and June 2009 at one of three research nodes:

  • Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Water and Wastewater Engineering Program, School of Environment, Resources, and Development(Bangkok, Thailand);
  • Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), Department of Environmental Science (Phnom Penh, Cambodia); or
  • Resource Development InternationalCambodia (RDIC) (rural Kean Svay, Cambodia).

Towards the end of the six week period all students will participate in a common research presentation experience and tour the U.N.-designated World Heritage Angkor Temple Complex in Cambodia.

Students will work on a guided research project with faculty, staff, and students from one of AIT, RUPP, or RDIC. Each of these three research nodes has an overarching project that the students will participate in, but each student also will have latitude in selecting their specific research topic (through consultation with the program directors) under the umbrella of the larger project. Each of the three research nodes will have two U.S. students.

Objectives | Projects | Funding | Application | Selection | Contact Info


This project will allow future U.S. scientists to experience how international collaborations are important for working in the global scientific context and allow them to form relationships with international scientists that may develop into future educational or research collaboration.

It is the National Science Foundation belief that in order for the U.S. to remain at the forefront of world science and technology, it needs an educated science and engineering workforce capable of operating in the international research environment and a global market.

More specific to this project, access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation in the developing world through sustainable and technologically-appropriate means remains an important challenge. This project will give students valuable experience in addressing both the science and social aspects of such problems in cultural settings very different from their own.

Research Nodes and Overarching Research Projects

Node 1: Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand

Overarching Research Question:

How can Material Flow Analysis and Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment be effectively integrated to produce a new decision-making tool for environmental sanitation planning, with specific application to a constructed wastewater treatment wetland?

Possible Student Research Projects under the Overarching Question:

  • What is the temporal variability of environmental conditions (e.g. temperature, moisture content of soil, nutrient levels, sunlight, pH, or other major cations) in the demonstration constructed wetland?
  • What are the major populations of microbial communities that are responsible for the pollutant removals in the demonstration constructed wetland?
  • Within the range of observed environmental conditions for the demonstration constructed wetland, what are the die-off rates for specific pathogens of interest?

For more information about the AIT program see:

Node 2: Royal University of Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Overarching Research Question:

How effective are Phnom Penhs naturally-existing wetlands in treating the city’s waste before it reaches the Mekong River System?

Possible Student Research Projects under the Overarching Question:

  • Based on factors such as residence time or type of vegetation, could the efficiency of the treatment wetlands be improved?
  • Are there differences in the sewage quality between dry weather and storm flow as it enters the wetland?
  • Can the sewer system or wetland be modeled mathematically using a standard, western approach?

For more information about the RUPP program see:

Node 3: Resource Development InternationalCambodia, Kean Svay, Cambodia

Overarching Research Question:

What water quality problems do users of wells in rural Takeo province, Cambodia, encounter?

Possible Student Research Projects under the Overarching Question:

  • What water quality parameters are of greatest concern in the wells of Takeo?
  • Are there specific environmental or anthropogenic factors that influence well water quality and could be managed to reduce health risks?
  • Does a Drinking Water Quality Index effectively communicate drinking water risk to policy-makers and the Cambodian public?

For more information about the RDIC program see:

Funding and Logistics

Each undergraduate participant will be paid a stipend of $1,800 for the six week experience. Return airfare, local travel costs, lodging, and food also will be paid by the project. Students will not accrue or be eligible for academic credit as part of this experience. Students will stay in the university dormitory at AIT, at a hotel in Phnom Penh, and at the dormitory facilities at RDIC headquarters.

In addition to the six week international research experience, students are expected to participate in four pre-trip preparation meetings during the spring of 2007 and a post-trip meeting in the U.S. at which research results are presented.

The working language at all research nodes is English, but required, basic conversational language lessons (Thai or Khmer) will be provided as part of the program.


We are looking for enthusiastic, energetic, full-time students, preferably between junior and senior year and majoring in geography, environmental science/planning, Earth science, biology, chemistry, or engineering. Students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Click here for the online application for the program .

All application materials must be received by February 1, 2009. Please note that the applicant is responsible for filing a complete application consisting of:

1) the completed application form
2) College transcripts;
3) two letters of recommendation from college professors

Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Selection process

Criteria for selection are based on academic qualifications, as determined by academic record, two letters of recommendation from College professors, and the statements of research interest; how your past experiences have prepared you for this project; and how this international experience will enhance your career aspirations.

Letters of reference should address:

  • probability that the experience will enhance the students particular career choice
  • ability of the student to benefit from this international experience
  • ability of the student to adapt to new or unforeseen circumstances (student resiliency)
  • intellectual capability
  • if possible, whether course grades truly reflect the students capabilities to be successful in this program
  • ability of the student to work in group settings
  • scientific and emotional maturity

Contact info

For more information, contact Doug Graber Neufeld, associate professor in the biology department, at (540) 432-4401 or .

For general information about the nodes see: