The Milwaukee Column: A Simple, Affordable, and Effective Apparatus for Teaching and Research of One-Dimensional Flow and Transport in Porous Media

Dylan Childs, “The Milwaukee Column: A Simple, Affordable, and Effective Apparatus for Teaching and Research of One-Dimensional Flow and Transport in Porous Media”
Mentors: Charles Paradis, Adam Schmidt, and Maxwell Morgan, Geosciences

How groundwater travels and interacts with porous media is an imperative concept taught in any hydrogeology related field. This relationship is important for understanding how long it takes for water, or pollutants in the water, to travel underground. Public and private interests often use this information to locate and treat polluted water, quantify water yields, and assess how much groundwater wells can provide for service. When teaching students about the relationship between groundwater and porous media, running a lab experiment to visualize these concepts often involves the acquisition of equipment and machinery that can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. The goal of this research project is to design a simplified, affordable water column kit that costs no more than $100 to allow for easier and more readily available access to hydrogeology experiments and education. This kit will be able to replicate a one-dimensional flow and transport experiment with precision and accuracy. The experiment involves the use of deionized water and two tracers (dye and potassium chloride) flowing through a column filled with granular porous media at a steady state. The dye helps visually trace the flow and as the solution exits the column, samples are taken to measure the change in concentration of potassium chloride over time. Data of the percent concentration over time is used to generate a breakthrough curve and mean residence time. Prototypes of this column have been developed and current research is on down-scaling the equipment, increasing visualization, and developing a simple graphical user interface (GUI) to analytically model the data. The final version of this design will encourage hydrogeology labs abroad to construct the Milwaukee Column for improved teaching and experimental methods.


  1. Well organized and easy to understand. Dylan showed a good understanding of the research. Nice that it was affordable research.

  2. Great presentation, Dylan! Is there anything Milwaukee-specific about the column other than it was designed in Milwaukee?

    1. Hello Julie, thanks for reaching out! The Milwaukee Column got its name from where it is being designed, but unfortunately there’s not much more reason beyond that. However, a lot of the material we use has come from local hardware stores, so I can say there have been local contributions that have helped create the apparatus.

  3. Nice job, Dylan! Well organized presentation. Who do you think will be most interested in using this device once it is ready to go?

  4. Nice presentation Dylan! It was easy to follow along and I like the data versus theory consideration and discussion. I can see how this would be real useful for “experimental” teaching!

  5. Hello Dyanna, thank you! I believe this device will pertain most to teachers with classes related to groundwater. Ideally this device will be put together in a lab for students to run an experiment during class. Making it more affordable and mobile will allow more communities to have access to such an apparatus.

  6. Thanks Dylan! Very well organized and easy to understand presentation. It was great to have a background of how this started and how the research has continued and further considerations for the future. Also wonderful to have Milwaukee be part of the name of the instrument! 🙂

  7. Great talk Dylan. Nicely organized and easy to follow. Is there any more experimentation/modifications that need to be done on the model or is it ready for others to copy the model?

    1. Hello John, thank you! And to answer your question, no we have some work yet before releasing a final model. Some changes we plan on making for the new prototype include using a column with pre-fitted endcaps and filling it with a finer grained media. The current prototype has custom caps, but it would be easier for others to copy if we used ones you could buy from a store. A smaller grain size will give us a smaller Reynold’s number, so we’ll get data reflecting more realistic groundwater conditions. When this is done, we’ll hopefully be a lot closer to our final goal.

  8. I’m late to the party on this, but, wow, great presentation, Dylan! Your narrative is scientifically solid, compelling, and very easy to understand, i.e., you tell a great story. Keep up the good work on the Milwaukee column and good luck bridging the gaps between model and data; this is always a challenge. -Charlie

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