The LSU SRP RTC hosted a Louisiana 4-H University Clover College track and the Big Buddy program for summer enrichment activities again this year. Clover College offers a hands-on learning experience for youth as part of 4-H University, an annual event where 4-H members compete in contests, explore careers, and discover new interests. Big Buddy is an organization that provides positive role models and quality learning experiences for the underserved children and youth of Baton Rouge. Both Louisiana 4-H and Big Buddy are LSU SRP research translation partners.
This year’s Clover College session was entitled “Tracking Toxins: Shining Light on Pollution” and was held June 21-22 at LSU. One of the highlights of the track was giving students the opportunity to build and test their own particulate matter (PM) detectors using a programmable microcontroller (Arduino), a simple dust sensor, and basic electronics (LEDs, resistors, wire, and breadboards). Particulate matter has been liked to harmful effects on human health and is one of the 6 criteria air pollutants and a focus of the research at the LSU SRP.
The activity and code for the Arduinos was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the supplies were purchased using a grant from SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics. The dust sensor uses a small heat source (a resistor) to create airflow (warm air rises), a light source (a LED) and a light receptor. The LED shines light on the particles in the air flowing through the sensor and the amount of light deflected by the particles is measured by a light receptor. These measurements are converted to particle counts and the code tells the Arduino to light up LEDs based on how many particles are seen: 1 LED for a low number of particles, 2 LEDs for a moderate amount of particles, and 3 LEDs for a high amount of particles.
To complement the activities about PM pollution, Clover College participants also learned about ozone (O3), another air pollutant. The students recreated a simple ozone test developed in the 1840’s by the German-Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schönbein, the scientist credited with discovering ozone. The Schönbein test is based on the oxidizing ability of ozone and the relationship between concentration and absorbance (Beer’s Law). Students applied a paste made of starch and potassium iodide (KI) to filter paper and then observed the color changes. Ozone oxidizes the potassium iodide on the paper to produce potassium hydroxide (KOH) and iodine (I2) and the iodine reacts with the starch to produce a purple color. The intensity of the purple color is related to the amount of ozone in the air.
The experimental design for our test involved placing both experimental and control (inside a covered petri dish) ozone papers in 6 different indoor locations. We collected the papers the following morning and sprayed them with water to observe the results. As expected, the control papers exhibited less color change than the experimental papers but ozone concentrations varied from room to room and between the two buildings.
While the PM detectors and ozone tests were the main focus of our track, we also made and deployed simple particulate matter test strips, searched for pollution-sensitive lichens, and learned about combustion by-products by constructing models of combustion reactions using Legos™. Finally, we showed our Clover College students how to find information about air pollution where they live on the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s (LDEQ) Air Quality Data and Air Quality Index (AQI) and the EPA’s AirNow.gov webpages.
Thanks to trainee LSU SRP trainee Ajit Ghimire and Jay Thibodeaux, a senior in the School of Plant, Environment, and Soil Sciences, for their assistance! To see more pictures from “Tracking Toxins: Shining Light on Pollution,” please visit our Facebook album Clover College 2017.
The LSU SRP has partnered with Big Buddy, an organization that provides positive role models and quality learning experiences for the underserved children and youth of Baton Rouge, for several years. This year our summer enrichment activities were part of summer camp program called “Teen Get Out,” a partnership between Big Buddy and the Recreation and Park Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge (BREC). One group of our Big Buddy students also got to build particulate matter detectors and learn about PM pollution. Our other group of Big Buddy students learned about lead poisoning by using a hands-on kit from Science Take-Out and discussed how the media portrayed the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.