Labouisse winner gets 'in the flow' of research
By Karin Dienst
Princeton NJ -- As an environmental engineering major, senior Cynthia Lin is exploring issues of water manage-ment in destinations far from her hometown of Emmaus, Pa. The 2003 winner of the Henry Richardson Labouisse '26 Prize, Lin will spend next year in Chile examining a range of factors that impact water resources in that country.
The Labouisse fellowship provides $25,000 in funding to support research in developing countries by a graduating senior or a first-year alumnus or alumna who intends to pursue a career devoted to problems of development and modernization.
Lin will work in two locations in Chile, combining her findings to support initiatives in water resource management.
Based in Santiago, she will work as an intern conducting policy research under the auspices of the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Lin learned about ECLAC's work in Chile last summer when, as a member of a small research team organized by faculty from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Nevada-Reno, she spent two weeks in the Atacama Desert measuring water evaporation in an area impacted by mining. Funding from a National Science Foundation fellowship, called Research Experience for Undergraduates, made it possible for Lin to join the team.
"The desert contains the driest place on Earth," she said. "We were asked to provide hard data to give the mining companies good measurements about how much water they should be allowed to extract."
Lin also will undertake a project farther south in Chile, in Temuco, where she will work with the indigenous Mapuche Indians on matters of sustainable agriculture. She is interested in examining the "bottom-up strategies" aimed at helping the Mapuche maintain their cultural identity and farming practices despite their relocation by the government from the lake districts in the south to a mountainside. This initiative is being organized by the Center for Sustainable Development based at the Catholic University of Chile.
"Top-down water management policies don't always address the equitable distribution of resources," said Lin.
Lin came to Princeton knowing that she wanted to study environmental engineering, making academic choices reinforcing that interest. For a semester in her junior year, she studied at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby, where she was particularly inspired by a workshop dealing with environmental engineering concerns in developing countries. In the workshop, 50 students discussed environmental aid, its political and social implications, and its technical applicability and ecological consequences.
Lin has written her senior thesis on the topic of water scarcity. Her adviser is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Eric Wood, an expert on hydrology and water management.
"I've looked at the effects of population growth and the rising demands on water availability, as well as the broader social, economic and political contexts that affect equitable distribution of water resources," said Lin. "One future scenario I've explored has to do with virtual water transfer, in which countries reorganize sectors of their economy and move away from agriculture toward industrial development." Lin points to Japan as a country that imports crops in order to create space for industry.
After her year in Chile, Lin expects to attend graduate school in the hopes of becoming a professor. "I've been really inspired by the professors I have had," she said. "The way they teach, as well as the research and applied projects they pursue, have planted the seeds of passion and motivation for me to continue my work."
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Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Staff writers: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, Steven Schultz
Contributing writers: Patricia Allen, Karin Dienst, Eric Quinones, Joseph Seldner
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