Engineering: Solves practical problems to improve the standard of living
Gabriel Rau is one of the leading researchers that have developed a new approach to allow analyses of an aquifer by using tidal forces; avoiding the need for human interaction resulting in stresses such as pumping, or taking physical samples of the material through drilling or coring.
“The Conversation”, a news publisher focused on communicating facts based on academic expertise in accessible language has covered this significant development recently in an article “Squeezed by gravity: how tides affect the groundwater under our feet”.
Gabriel has also led a project that aims to make the fundamental facts of groundwater fun and accessible to all.
Why did you get into engineering?
Because engineering solves practical problems in order to improve the standard of living, reduce our footprint on the environment and gain natural process understanding.
What are your research goals?
My goals are to crack interesting nuts - in a metamorphic sense. I love problem solving. Essentially, I am keen to develop an understanding of how groundwater is connected to the natural water cycle, and how we can use natural signals such as daily temperature fluctuations or tidal forces to quantify system properties. These properties allow us to forecast impacts of human activity, such as groundwater abstraction, on the water resources without having to induce stress. This is similar to the weather forecast that we all rely on every day which is based on our understanding of how the atmosphere works, but transferred to underground water reservoirs and their interaction with the surface.
What do people not understand about what you do?
People often don’t understand why we need to get into such technical depth as it seems too far removed from their everyday reality. I believe this is a result of not realising what impact our lifestyle has on the environment and its natural resources. Only if we understand this can we try and optimise resources as well as minimise our impact whilst improving the standard of living.
What advice would you give to prospective civil or environmental engineers interested in groundwater?
My advice would be to study because of interest in the subject matter, not because of potential financial or career benefits. In my opinion, the best environmental engineers are passionate about focusing on understanding and problem solving and forget that they actually get paid for their passion.