Guest Post: Building a Better Water Quality Measurement Platform

by Meghan Chua
With a background in engineering and environmental science, alumnus Paul Schramm had the perfect mix of skills to work on a water quality measurement project that brought new possibilities into the field of limnology.
Schramm first started working on a prototype of Fast Limnology Automated Measurement (FLAMe) platform in 2014 as an undergraduate student. Before deciding on an environmental science degree, he had studied environmental engineering. The FLAMe platform, which measures spatial water chemistry, allowed limnologists to build detailed maps of the water quality over large areas of lakes and rivers, as opposed to traditional water quality measurements of a single site.
In 2016, a UW2020 grant awarded to the FLAMe project funded Schramm to continue his work on FLAMe as a graduate student. Under the grant, he partnered with the UW–Madison Physical Sciences Laboratory to improve the platform’s design and rebuilt a more polished version of the product. The team also started outreach to other researchers who might be interested in building or buying a FLAMe platform.

Paul Schramm checks out the Physical Sciences Lab’s work on the latest version of FLAMe.

At the same time, Schramm conducted research combining information from FLAMe and how far light penetrates a lake. He and colleagues would navigate around the lake in a grid pattern to collect a map of data. Such measurements can help limnologists estimate photosynthesis and carbon dioxide production in the lake, as well as identify areas where different species of fish and plants are able to thrive.
“There are some fish species that are very sensitive to how deeply the light is penetrating in the water column, so looking at where those species of plant and fish can do well, we can actually make a map of where different fish and different plants are able to grow,” Schramm said.
Schramm earned a master’s degree in Freshwater and Marine Sciences through the Center for Limnology in 2018. He now works full-time at the North Temperate Lakes Long Term Research project for the Center for Limnology and the National Science Foundation, studying the Trout Lake region in northern Wisconsin.
He said his experience working with the water quality sensors and other electronics involved in FLAMe, as well as experience with water sampling and water chemistry gained through the project, helped prepare him for his current work.
Additionally, the project offered a great chance to collaborate with great colleagues in a variety of departments.
“It was a really good opportunity to collaborate with other people that we maybe wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do if it would have been for the UW2020 grant,” Schramm said.
The UW2020 initiative supports innovative and groundbreaking research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison with the potential to transform a field of study. UW2020 grants are supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) with combined funding from the Graduate School and other sources.

Top Photo: As a graduate student, Paul Schramm worked on refining the Fast Limnology Automated Measurement (FLAMe) platform, shown here on a boat on Lake Mendota.