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Visit to Machu Picchu inspires Maya Goldman to walk in the footsteps of Incan engineers

A Mundy scholar essay
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Civil engineering senior Maya Goldman stands in front of a hydroelectric dam and accompanying facility in Peru. Goldman traveled to Cuzco, Peru, and the surrounding areas in summer 2016 with the GREEN Program to learn how Peru blends ancient and modern techniques to provide clean water in a sustainable way. (Photo Courtesy: Maya Goldman)
Civil engineering senior Maya Goldman stands in front of a hydroelectric dam and accompanying facility in Peru. Goldman traveled to Cuzco, Peru, and the surrounding areas in summer 2016 with The GREEN Program to learn how Peru blends ancient and modern techniques to provide clean water in a sustainable way. Goldman's summer travel was supported by the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Joe S. Mundy Global Learning Endowment. (Photo Courtesy: Maya Goldman)
 

Senior Maya Goldman spent 10 days in Peru last summer studying water resources and sustainability through The GREEN Program. Working with Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola in Cuzco, local community organizers, and owners of power plant and water treatment facilities, Goldman learned how Peru uses ancient methods and modern technologies to ensure access to clean water for future generations.

A group of students surveys a dry Incan canal at the religious and agricultural site Tipon in Peru. The group, including Georgia Tech senior Maya Goldman, used a well-known hydraulic modeling software to compare the trial-and-error method of Inca engineers to modern empirical equations. (Photo: Maya Goldman)
A group of students surveys a dry Incan canal at the religious and agricultural site Tipon in Peru. The group, including Georgia Tech senior Maya Goldman, used a well-known hydraulic modeling software to compare the trial-and-error method of Incan engineers to modern empirical equations. (Photo: Maya Goldman)

“It incorporated not just the topic of water resources management, which I plan to purse as a career, but also history and culture,” Goldman said. “There was an environment of constant learning that challenged me physically and mentally.”

Goldman’s trip was supported by the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Joe S. Mundy Global Learning Endowment. Here, she shares more about her experience:

After morning classes in Cuzco, students went on field trips so we could experience and practice what we had been taught. For example, after learning about the different geographical regions of Peru, the seasons, and the importance of agriculture in ancient and modern days, we visited Tipón.

Tipón is an outdoor agricultural laboratory and religious retreat built by the Incans to help acclimate seeds from different kingdoms to various altitudes and then to share these crops throughout the empire.

There is an extensive network of small canals that transport water from the lakes on the mountaintop to the laboratory below. We surveyed one of the canals, measured the cross-sections, and modeled the canal in a 3-D program at our host school to see how our modern day empirical equations correlate with the trial-and-error methods of the Incans.

On another one of our field trips, we hiked part of the Incan trail to get to a hydroelectric dam and power generation facility. We went deep underground where the new Francis turbine cranked out power for people on the other side of the valley, and I got to see up close the processes I learned about in my hydraulic engineering and environmental engineering classes at Tech.

A rainwater cistern with a gutter made of recycled Inca Kola bottles, a popular soda in Peru. Undergraduate Maya Goldman fixed this gutter system as part of day volunteering at an elementary school outside of Cuzco, Peru, during her summer 2016 study abroad trip to the South American country. "The main idea of this project was to show the kids a creative way of recycling plastic bottles while collecting precious water resources," Goldman said. (Photo: Maya Goldman)
A rainwater cistern with a gutter made of recycled Inca Kola bottles, a popular soda in Peru. Undergraduate Maya Goldman fixed this gutter system as part of a day volunteering at an elementary school outside of Cuzco, Peru, during her summer 2016 study abroad trip to the South American country. "The main idea of this project was to show the kids a creative way of recycling plastic bottles while collecting precious water resources," Goldman said. (Photo: Maya Goldman)
 

We visited an elementary school where a community group was discussing the water scarcity and quality issues they will be facing in the upcoming season, and saw the greenhouse, water collection systems, and educational murals implemented at the school.

We visited one of the most polluted rivers in the country, which has such low oxygen levels that no living things survive in the sewage, garbage, and industrial waste infested water. Then we took a tour of the wastewater treatment plant further downstream.

Finally, I entered a wonderland for someone like me with a love of both history and civil engineering: Machu Picchu.

Educated Incans studied weather patterns, astronomy, agricultural sciences, and religion in a city that has stood the test of time thanks to the genius of engineers who came before me.

I walked on retaining walls that have protected great stone structures from mudslides.

I touched the walls of homes built from pieces brought from a quarry over rough terrain and cut precisely to fit together like Legos using no mortar or cement.

I peered through clear glass at an archeological excavation to view the amazing seismic damping foundations that allowed the city to survive earthquakes.

I followed the flow of water through complex drainage systems built to move massive amounts of water through the city to mitigate flood risks during the rainy season.

Georgia Tech senior Maya Goldman at Machu Picchu in Peru. The structure behind her shows how Inca engineers used terraces as retaining walls. "Being in Machu Picchu inspired me like no other place on Earth to continue my study of civil engineering," Goldman said, "to follow in the footsteps of those before me, and to build a future based on sharing knowledge and closely observing environmental processes, just like Incan engineers." (Photo Courtesy: Maya Goldman)
Georgia Tech senior Maya Goldman at Machu Picchu in Peru. The structure behind her shows how Incan engineers used terraces as retaining walls. "Being in Machu Picchu inspired me like no other place on Earth to continue my study of civil engineering," Goldman said, "to follow in the footsteps of those before me, and to build a future based on sharing knowledge and closely observing environmental processes, just like Incan engineers." Goldman traveled to Peru with the support of the Joe S. Mundy Global Learning Endowment, a study-abroad fund the helps School of Civil and Environmental Engineering students pay for learning and cultural experiences in other countries. (Photo Courtesy: Maya Goldman)
 

Being in Machu Picchu inspired me like no other place on Earth to continue my study of civil engineering, to follow in the footsteps of those before me, and to build a future based on sharing knowledge and closely observing environmental processes, just like Incan engineers.

I did many other things during my adventure in Peru: white-water rafting, zip-lining, meeting llamas and alpacas, swimming in a hot spring, dancing with my friends at a local club, visiting a salt mine, watching pottery being made, hiking in a cloud forest.

But what I gained most was a clearer sense of purpose and pride for my future working as a civil engineer on important projects to improve my local and global community.

I cannot wait to take what I learned in The GREEN Program and continue to fight for a cleaner, happier, and more sustainable world.