Jason Cho

My first taste of real engineering was back in South Korea, around ten years ago, when I saw how engineers were undertaking remediation work for a nearby polluted river. Even with a younger mind, I realized that, just like them, I wanted to be someone who could lead a tangible and positive change, through the tools of science, upon the world around me.

In high school, as I was finding the prevalence of water pollution and inefficient water usages pertaining to the various aquatic bodies throughout Upstate New York, I asked myself “are there ways to more effectively utilize the water sources?” This question then led me on a self-mission to find the possibility of using drainage water from urban green roofs to irrigate nearby urban vegetation. I thought at the time that if this was possible, urban areas could reap many environmental benefits.

In order to research this idea further, I went to labs and research facilities at Syracuse University and the State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry. Once I came up with a robust prototype for how this “urban drainage system” might work, I then focused on the nuts and bolts of the project such as coming up with ways to remove hazardous pollutants and then testing the prototype so that it can work at a larger scale.

In the end, I was able to achieve meaningful results with the prototype in using different methods such as phytoremediation and using nanorods - in the presence of UV rays - to filter out many toxic substances in the water, making the drainage water acceptable for irrigating nearby urban vegetation.

I had the opportunity to present my findings during the 2018 International Building Physics Conference (IBPC 2018) Research Poster Competition, the Intel ISEF Science Fair, and the New York State Ying Scholar Oral Presentation where I met researchers who were interested in continuing my research and working towards creating this system at a larger scale.

I took a gap year for the 2020-21 academic year to look over myself, which previously, I couldn’t afford to do well.

I’m interested in the many different branches of engineering, and I hope to take an interdisciplinary approach before deciding on a major. Regardless, no matter what happens throughout my time as an engineering student at Columbia, I just hope to always remind myself of that time back when I was back in South Korea thinking that I’d like to create meaningful “change”.