University of Wisconsin-Stevens
Point senior Sam Knapp has always felt lucky to live in the United States,
calling it a place of privilege where clean water and abundant food and energy
resources are taken for granted.
The graduating chemistry and
physics major hoped to bring that privilege to others around the world by
studying environmental engineering in graduate school next fall.
Sometimes plans change - for the
better. Rather than preparing for his dream, Knapp will put it into action and
spend 10 months working on a project to eradicate Legionnaires' disease from water supplies in hospitals
The winner of a 2014-15 U.S.
State Department’s Fulbright Student Grant, Knapp will travel to Sweden to work
with Dr. Bo Nordell at the Luleå University of Technology in Luleå. He is the
third UW-Stevens Point student to win the prestigious award since 1973.
“Every day it becomes a little
more real,” said the Iron River, Wis., native. “I’m looking forward to the
satisfaction of learning something new and professionally moving toward a
career in sustainability. I’m also excited for the cultural immersion aspect of
Knapp knew competition for the
Fulbright Grant would be tough. About 70 students nationwide competed for 10
positions in Sweden.
“It was an enormous amount of
work but totally worth it,” he said. “I had to create and write about my own
project, and own it. Applying for the Fulbright makes you evaluate what is
really important in your life.”
The Fulbright Grant will support
his work at the university as well as provide room and board. He will focus on
expanding Nordell’s research, which uses a thermal water disinfection system to
kill the legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form
of pneumonia. The bacteria are commonly found in water towers and tanks that
are kept at 20-50 degrees Celsius, making hospital and nursing home water
supplies a particular concern.
“Nordell is looking to adapt his
system with solar heating,” said Knapp. “My job will be to make this work.”
Using a solar energy source created by an Algerian scientist, Knapp hopes to
create an energy-efficient and low-cost solution for hospitals in developing
countries, he said.
In February 2015, Knapp will
adapt the system for a hospital in Algeria and hopes to travel there to put the
system in place.
In addition to fulfilling his
professional goals, studying in Sweden fulfills a more personal dream –
discovering the homeland of his great-grandparents. They immigrated to the
United States from Luleå in the 1920s. When he began looking for environmental
research projects in Sweden, the first response he received just happened to be
from a scientist in his family’s hometown. “It must have been fate,” he said.
He plans to visit relatives there.
Knapp studied Swedish for two
years at UW-Madison before transferring to UW-Stevens Point. He’s practiced the
language by reading Swedish newspapers and listening to Swedish radio online.
“I can’t wait to finally put my skills to practice on a regular basis.”
Transferring to a smaller
university has created more opportunities for research, Knapp said. “When I
came to UW-Stevens Point, I found a welcoming atmosphere across campus and
faculty who were eager to see you, even if they had just met you once.” He
began a research project his first semester with Biology Professor Eric
“Sam exemplified every good
quality we want to show the world,” said Singsaas. “Besides his intelligence,
Sam is a humble and caring person. He has the capability to see connections
between seemingly unrelated things. This is the mark of a true scholar.”
After completing his Fulbright
experience, Knapp will go to graduate school. Ultimately, he hopes to work in
the research and development of renewably sourced electricity in developing
countries, as well as on small-scale clean water projects.
“I always want my work to address
both social justice and environmental sustainability,” he said.