John Norton: Statement of purpose

I am pursuing my doctorate for two major reasons – my interest in teaching and my interest in research. I am a passionate and vigorous teacher, and am pursuing my doctorate so that I might be able to teach, motivate and inspire students at the college level. I had the opportunity to learn of my teaching skills through feedback from my students while I served as an adjunct instructor in engineering at Miami University of Ohio. Since then, I have been a graduate student instructor at the University of Michigan and in 2002 won the Outstanding Student Instructor Award for the University of Michigan College of Engineering.

My overall research interest concerns extracting greater efficiency from infrastructure systems, with my specific thesis focus being the optimization of drinking water treatment and delivery networks. This interest is partly due to the careers and interests of my extended family. My father, his father, and several aunts and uncles are practicing engineers in a wide variety of disciplines. I have been privileged to see their work and careers since my youth. My early sense for the nature of “recycled resources” came from touring the Montgomery County, Ohio solid waste incinerators with my dad, who was the director. As a result, my curiosity and sense of discovery were whetted when I was very young, and have only grown with age.

During and after receiving my master’s degree in CEE at the University of Cincinnati, I worked in various consulting positions in the greater Cincinnati area on infrastructure engineering issues, including brownfield construction, hazardous waste site remediation and storm water management. These work experiences, combined with my lifelong exposure to other engineering disciplines, resulted in my strong passion for infrastructure systems research.

My current research topic deals with distributed water treatment technologies, which is discussed in my research statement. My research advisor is Walter J. Weber, Jr. In the long term, I have a number of other research ideas I hope to develop. Many of these research ideas consider the combination of multiple needs and functions to more efficiently meet infrastructure demands, such as “green roofs” to reduce stormwater runoff, or the use of recycled materials in pavement. One component of my research will be the economic nature of component properties. For instance, a structural/life-cycle analysis would reveal the break-even cost of recycled aggregate in concrete after accounting for reduced material properties and the processing costs of both the new and recycled aggregate. I believe that economic analysis will reveal sectors where efficiencies can be gained immediately, and areas where technical advances are needed. I will also investigate the human nature of infrastructure systems, and the nature of innovation in a government-run monopoly.

I plan on actively pursuing a college/university teaching position after I graduate. I intend to vigorously recruit and mentor graduate students, develop a comprehensive research focus, and enthusiastically participate in professional activities to present the practical implications of my research. Finally, I will delight in teaching both undergraduate and graduate level classes, as well as teaching units on science and engineering to the local K-12 schools and to the general public.