Justin Box and his dog.Student Research Spotlight - Justin Box

Justin Box won the undergraduate research award for the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering during the 2020 Auburn Research: Virtual Student Symposium.

Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Major: Bachelor’s Degree in Biosystems Engineering/Bioprocess Engineering
College: Samuel Ginn College of Engineering
Department: Biosystems Engineering
Class year: May 2020
Faculty mentor: Brendan Higgins

Development of Algal-Bacterial Wastewater Treatment Systems that are Effective in the Presence of Antimicrobial Processing Aids used in the Poultry Processing Industry



What are you researching?
Poultry processing plants utilize a range of antimicrobial processing aids to sanitize plant equipment and bird carcasses to meet stringent food safety standards, however, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association has recognized these processing aids could present problems for their existing wastewater treatment approaches. While effective at killing pathogens, antimicrobials have the unfortunate side effect of harming the “good” bacteria, particularly nitrifiers that are critical to wastewater treatment. The research objective was to compare the effectiveness of an algal-bacterial process to a bacteria-only wastewater treatment process in the presence of an antimicrobial aid commonly used in the poultry industry: peracetic acid, or PAA.

How could the results benefit individuals, agencies or companies?
These results indicate the possibility of using an algal-bacterial process to effectively treat poultry processing wastewater, even in the presence of PAA. The results from this project constituted a significant advance in our understanding of how algae can increase nitrification capacity of bacteria when treating poultry processing wastewater. To our knowledge, this is the first report showing that algae can support ammonia oxidizing and nitrite oxidizing bacteria in the presence of PAA.

Tell us why you enjoy research.
I have an innate curiosity to discover and learn how things work. This drive has created a passion for research and problem solving. What I love most about research is the opportunity to ask and find answers to questions that nobody knows yet. Research opens the doors for the discovery of new information to help tackle the world’s most complex problems.

What advice would you give to other students considering doing a research project?
I believe that making the decision to perform research is one of the best decisions you could make during your time at Auburn. This experience will not only launch you into a successful college career, but a professional career as well. If given the opportunity to perform research, know that although you will be challenged, you will be shaped and molded in ways that you never expected.

Tell us about any hobbies or activities you enjoy.
In 2014 I married my beautiful wife, Hannah, after graduating with my first undergraduate degree in animal science/pre vet. We have been married for six year and we enjoy running, traveling to new places and spending time spoiling our three fur babies: two dogs, Oakley and Presley, and a kitten, Samson. I am also a coffee enthusiast with the hopes of applying my engineering knowledge into the coffee industry and starting my own coffee roasting business.

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