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Zoë Hardnett '21: Making Distance Learning Meaningful Through Research
Eddie Davis

When COVID-19 sent Baylor boarding student Zoë Hardnett ’21 home last March with the final semester of her junior year remaining, she was hoping not to lose the momentum she had gained on her Baylor Research project.

Even though Hardnett opted for virtual classes for her senior year, her independent study endeavor kept going strong, thanks to a good internet connection, close contact with her engineering and research instructor Dr. Mary Loveless, a dedicated lab space in her Atlanta area home, and a healthy dose of her own initiative and work ethic.

Inspired by the Flint, Mich., water crisis that began in 2014, Hardnett’s project centered around designing and creating a water filtration system with both commercial and private applications. As a sophomore, she created an electric water filter and submitted her work to the Chattanooga Regional Science and Engineering Fair all on her own. Leaders at the fair gave her very positive feedback along with some advice on how to improve her prototype. As a Baylor Research student, her work focused on the application of nanomaterials, specifically graphene oxide, in the creation of water filtration membranes. Part of that research was looking at similar work previously done in the Baylor Research program by Pete Harinsuit ’17. “It’s been really fun learning about graphene, which is basically carbon, graphene oxide, and reduced graphene oxide,” she says.

So many people died and were affected by lead poisoning, and they felt like nobody was trying to help them. My filter may not work right away, but it’s good that people without safe water know that somebody out there cares about them and what they’re going through.

Dr. Loveless checked Hardnett’s work periodically, but most of her work was done independently. She saw that her project was a good match for distance learning, more than other research topics or traditional classes might have been. “A lot of my classmates in the program had trouble with the distance learning because they needed 3-D printers, a computer, or a VR room. If I ever needed something printed in 3-D, Dr. Loveless sent it to me,” says Hardnett. “None of the materials I used were toxic. The only acid I used is ascorbic acid, which is basically orange juice. I had all I needed here in our house. I’ve also used what I learned in my stats class with Mr. (David) Hilley.”

“Zoë has worked hard to make her at-home learning meaningful,” says Loveless. “She was always reading papers, taking notes, and confirming her knowledge of the chemical and mechanical processes involved with her project. During Zoom class time, she asked me questions. We had conversations regarding any material she did not fully understand.”

“When you think about it, sometimes we forget to address problems like safe drinking water and food security in this country,” Hardnett says, speaking of the Flint situation. “People lost their trust in the government. So many people died and were affected by lead poisoning, and they felt like nobody was trying to help them. My filter may not work right away, but it’s good that people without safe water know that somebody out there cares about them and what they’re going through.”

Hardnett plans to pursue a degree in engineering with a minor in music at Mercer University

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