Perspective: ND Lights

Author: Sara Brown


by Shelly Fuhrman ’12

I am a senior chemical engineer interning with the Office of Sustainability this year. At the beginning of the semester, I was asked to help out with the ND LIGHTS donation program. Initially, I knew absolutely nothing about ND Lights, so I did a little research on the program’s website and learned about the program’s mission to find new homes for old or obsolete lab equipment. In its first year, the program donated over a quarter million dollars worth of equipment to schools across the country! For a sustainability guru like myself, this was taking reuse to a whole new level.


After meeting with Michelle Joyce, the program’s coordinator, I learned that the specific project I would be working on involved assembling, testing, and disassembling different models of rotary evaporators (or rotovaps). For those unfamiliar, rotovaps are commonly used in chemistry labs to remove solvents from samples. In addition, I would be taking pictures to document the process and put together an instruction manual. The rotovaps would then be donated to Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Kenya and Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV. Several faculty members from Nairobi visited as I was working on the project and were so excited when they saw the rotovaps that they will be receiving.

I thought the opportunity would be an excellent way for me to use my technical engineering skills to influence sustainability on campus and make a lasting contribution to the science education of students around the globe, so I agreed to take on the project. I had three weeks to complete the project and make sure 3 different models of 12 total rotovaps were functioning properly and ready to be shipped. It was a lot of work to do and I didn’t have much time! Not to mention, I had not worked with this type of equipment in 3 years, and I did not have any experience or written directions for how to put the machines together, so it was a daunting task at first.

Once I got back in the laboratory and successfully put all 3 of the first model rotovaps together, I felt very comfortable and was enjoying the nice change of pace from my usual duties as an Office of Sustainability intern, like writing articles, auditing research labs, and promoting events on campus. Assembling the rotovaps was like putting a puzzle together, and as an engineer, that is right up my alley! The project took me about 24 total hours over a span of 3 weeks to complete. While working with the rotovaps, it was cool to think that I was the last person to be using them before they would be sent off to their new homes.

Now that I am back in the office, I have a chance to reflect upon this fantastic opportunity to join together to use the blessings that Notre Dame has been given to help other students. This mission is even more personal to me because I felt that I was giving other young people the opportunity to advance their knowledge in science and technology, and hopefully an opportunity to spark their interest in the subject, paving the way for them to become the scientists, doctors, and possibly engineers of the future.

Originally published by Sara Brown at on February 22, 2012.