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Student story

Ben Houlton

20 July 2023

"I am able to work on projects which help combat environmental and social issues..."


Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Chemical and Process Engineering, with a minor in Energy Processing Technologies

Master of Engineering with an endorsement in Chemical and Process Engineering

Since carrying out his master’s research in computational fluid dynamics, Ben has fully realised the impact his career could have on pollution and sustainable energy.

"I appreciate how within the field of engineering I am able to work on projects which help combat environmental and social issues we as a global society are facing,’ he says. "I like how with every project I work on I am exposed to more areas of research and get to learn from a range of disciplines and experts in order to come to up with solutions. For example, with my master’s research I have had to learn a lot about computer science and coding as well as product development and manufacturing."

His research involves creating computer simulations of fluid flowing through complex 3D structures to make passive filters. The aim is to enhance the flow dispersion within the filter to improve the adsorption of contaminants contained in the fluid (eg, runaway water and industrial waste waters). The project, led by Crown Research institute Scion and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, has the potential to be implemented globally.

"In particular, I am looking at changing the geometry of the network of channels which the fluid flows through to see how this influences the amount of adsorption occurring, and the effectiveness of the filter for treating contaminated water. These results will be used to develop and manufacture a 3D-printable filters able to target specific contaminant molecules. 

"By combining the targeted chemical adsorption from Scion’s researchers with the enhanced filter CAD geometries developed during my research, the end product will be a solution for treating contaminated water sources," he says.

Ben first discovered the Chemical and Process Engineering field from wanting to study something that combined his interests in chemistry and maths at UC.

"Throughout the course of my undergraduate studies I learned a lot about how process engineering is involved in the field of combating pollution and renewable energies, and decided I wanted to be involved."

Internships during his bachelor’s degree were key learning opportunities for Ben to see how his studies applied to the real-world industry.

"Work placements are a great chance to try out several different work environments including consultancies and more hands-on practical roles. I also participated in several site tours organised through UC, which was cool to see the colossal scale of some of the equipment we would perform calculations on regularly."

Having received a number of scholarships throughout his time with UC – including an Emerging Leaders Development Programme Scholarship, and several undergraduate engineering scholarships – Ben advises other students to "make the most of all the opportunities you are faced with at university".

"Study a range of topics because you never know what you will really connect with you, try a whole lot of extracurricular activities, and make the most of the academic support while you have it. Then by the time you’re done with your studies you’ll be on track to really enjoy whatever comes next for you," he says.

"The Engineering courses here at UC not only teach you a lot about the specialisation you are studying, but also help you to develop a great set of problem solving skills that you can apply to almost anything. Studying Engineering also requires you to develop a wide array of professional skills that are useful both for working in industry or postgraduate studies, including time management and communication."

UC itself was Ben’s first choice in university for his Engineering studies, coming down from the North Island.

"Apart from the Engineering School having a strong reputation, I was really intrigued by the community feel of UC and wanted to make the most of the environment which lies right at Christchurch’s doorstep. The suburban location and clubs scene helped UC feel less like a suffocating big city, and having the mountains and ocean within easy reach was definitely a big plus."

The clubs scene was another of Ben’s favourite aspects, starting with the Emerging Leaders Development Programme from first year, and later becoming an executive member to help mentor incoming students to the programme. Ben also attributes Student Volunteer Army (SVA) as a highlight from UC, joining from year one and later becoming an executive member organising volunteering events, which was "a really rewarding experience" outside of lectures.

Following his master’s Ben plans to go onto a PhD in renewable energies in Europe, after receiving a William Georgetti Scholarship to fund his studies.

"I see this as a great way to challenge myself and develop excellent research skills, while allowing me to network and set up a future career in the field of renewable energies. Eventually I would love to come back to New Zealand and help transition many of our industries to more sustainable practices."

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