Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

Costa Rica – MSU / UCR – December 27, 2014 – January 10, 2015

Jan. 8/9 Alajuela/Fabio-Baudrit – John

We will be lodged at Adventure Inn both January 8th and 9th. The bulk of our time these two days will be spent in the Fabio Baudrit Moreno station for agricultural research and experimentation. This picture showing location of the research station was taken from their website (


This will be the site for our team project, where we will design a liquid/solid separation system for the effluent from the digester.

The ambient temperature, also according to the Fabio website, is about 22 degrees Celsius and the research station is about 2 km from the Catholic church of the San Jose neighborhood.

On January 9, after we complete the team project, we will have a chance to explore either a farmers’ market, or La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Here is a picture of one of the waterfalls at the site,

La Paz

and the website for the attraction (It’s in English!) After the teams work together for their design project on the 8th and 9th, all will appreciate the time to see Costa Rica’s beautiful scenery.

January 10, 2015

Hello again!

This is sad, this is our last day blog! I will write about what we did during the last two days of our trip.


As usual, our group ate at their own will in the hotel between 6:30am (for the early risers) and 7:50 (for those rushing to shove banana bread in their mouth before starting the day at 8). We went immediately to The hardware store EPA, not the Environmental Protection Agency, to buy all the necessary parts and tools for our projects. EPA is a Nicaraguan hardware store with outlets in Costa Rica

Throughout the week, we have been divided into four groups and everyone has been consulting in their groups about designing a filter that will remove enough solids from the discharge of the Fabio Baudrit anaerobic digester that the effluent will not clog the first wetland in a series of wetlands that purify the water. We came out of the store under-budget, most groups had designed very simple filters with inexpensive pieces. Anaerobic digestion has been a huge focus of our trip here, and at a few of our stops we have been able to see different digesters. Here is a link where the EPA explains a little about the process!

After we got our parts, it was time to work. We quickly broke off into teams and started the construction of our filters. Some finished faster than others!

Site where one group installed their filter

Site where one group installed their filter

We all had separate designs, and they were placed at different parts of the system because each was optimized using a different velocity of flow and pressure.

Some groups had a lot of work to do!

Do I look like a giant compared to Juan Pablo?

Work, or playing in the wetlands?

Work, or playing in the wetlands?



Two groups used a 55 gallon barrel to house their filter, the other groups used much smaller mechanisms.

A little craw fish wants to help filter!

A little craw fish wants to help filter!

One group used the fibers of the papyrus plants growing in cell two of the wetland in their filter. This was a nice example of an article we read earlier in the week that helped us define “Ecosystems Engineering” as a way of merging technical design with the self-design of the environment. The were utilizing the plants who are already filtering the water in the wetland even more, so they could physically be used in separating out solids! The papyrus is shown in the picture with the craw fish!

I swear they're just harvesting papyrus heads!

I swear they’re just harvesting papyrus heads!



If you look closely, you can see what they are excited about!

If you look closely, you can see what they are excited about!

Our lovely ladies enjoying their lunch

Our lovely ladies enjoying their lunch

We were treated to a wonderful lunch at the Fabio Baudrit Moreno extension site where we were working. Carlos got to see some of his classmates while we were there. I was always forgetting that four members of our group study full-time in this beautiful country!

After our designs were manifested, it was time to test. Most groups needed the whole day for construction and tested the next day. We set all of our seals to dry and left the research station. We all had plenty of homework and design modifications to discuss, so we were happy to return to the hotel.

Macgyver in action!

Macgyver in action!



Later that evening we took a trip to the mall near out hotel, for which I have only one picture, but it shows how we travel in style.



Our last day, truly sad to leave such a wonderful place and such meaningful friendships. We began the day again at the Fabio research station where we began to test our designs. One group used a swirl-type filter where water would be forces to swirl around a large barrel where the solids would settle to the bottom before continuing on through the system. Another group used a very small addition to the output of the system with a vertical filter that stopped the sediments and separated the water. Another group forced the water through the bottom of a 55 gallon tank through a filter and let it rose until the uppermost water (hopefully less cloudy with solids) would flow over. The last group ran trials with many material filters: sand, gravel, papyrus, plastic crosses that catch solids, rocks, and about anything else they could find!

We let the effluent flow through our designs and tested the amount of turbidity, a measure of water clarity (Environmental Protection Agency).

Looks like about 5346 NTUs to me

Looks like about 5346 NTUs to me



The water coming out of our filters is not supposed to be pure, it just needs to be free of the large solids that will clog the primary wetlands. We tested the liquid flowing in and the liquid flowing out of our system so we could see how our designs worked. Two groups had results around 50% reduction in turbidity!




Erica with her filtered efluent

Erica with her filtered efluent

After our tests, it was truly time to say goodbye to the research station.

Our sweet group members leaving Fabio

Our sweet group members leaving Fabio

We headed for a volcano at Poas national park to see the sites! It was a cloudy day, but we didn’t miss a chance to take pictures so we would remember being together.

In case of volcanic eruption...

In case of volcanic eruption…

Juan Pablo carving our pineapple on the bus

Juan Pablo carving our pineapple on the bus








Our more stylish hikers

Our more stylish hikers

Cherishing our last moments together!

Cherishing our last moments together!








We got home and it was time to say goodbye to our Costa Rican brothers and sisters. We took some final pictures together and hugged and let them go. It was hard to be too dramatic because we will all be talking a great deal in the coming days to finish our project that is due 4 days from now…

The boys needed time together

The boys needed time for themselves

Hugo, Dana, Carlos, Maricuz, and John laugh together

Juan Pablo, Hugo, Dana, Carlos, Maricruz, John, and Tiffany laugh together








None of us will ever forget these days here in Costa Rica! We all learned so much about the environment, biodiversity, electricity and power, pride in your country and humanity, cooperation, language, and friendship. We were so blessed to have a rigorous curriculum designed so well and a group of open-hearted friends to share the experience with.

I would recommend a study-abroad experience to anyone who wished to have their career close to their heart. We were all moved at the many ways the Costa Rican people are striving to work in harmony with their environment.

Signing off!


Final links

Anaerobic digestion effluent as a source of nutrients

A paper from our fearless Professor, Dr. Reinhold, about plants mitigating organic pollutants!


2 thoughts on “Jan. 8/9 Alajuela/Fabio-Baudrit – John

  1. Thanks to all of you for the wonderful updates, explanations and pictures!


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