Playing Pandy

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the Author: Melissa-Anley Mills is the news director for EPA’s Office of Research and Development [http://www.epa.gov/ord/]. She joined the Agency in 1998 as a National Urban Fellow.

When the big blue package about the size of a stack of four tires arrived at my home, my husband excitedly asked: “What’s in the package?” that was husband speak for “is it for me.”

“It’s a panda,” I said, without looking up from my paper.

“Um, yeah, really, what’s in the package?” He didn’t believe me until I pulled out the panda head and told him that in addition to my regular duties I was organizing a group of
EPA staff to volunteer at the local Six Flags Math and Science Day.

image of costumed panda bear standing out of doorsThis was no ordinary panda gig, I would assume the identity of Pandy Pollution, EPA’s environmental education mascot, who joins forces with the EPA staff at special events to teach them about pollution prevention and protecting our earth.

But first, I needed the hubby’s help to make a module to illustrate lung capacity so we could talk about the importance of air quality, and the impact of air pollution and health effects.

Out came the power tools….

Using Archimedes’ principle of displacement we set at creating a water gizmo that when you blew air into it would displace enough of the water to reflect lung capacity.

We assembled our supplies: a plastic barrel, a translucent bucket, plastic tubing, a plug, disposable straws, and waterproof tape.  We quickly pulled together a low-tech but nifty gadget.  We felt like a couple of sixth graders who’d just finished their science fair projects.

I gently packed up the gizmo along with the other modules on stream ecology, the water cycle, pollution, recycling, UV radiation, and the role of the ozone layer.

I suited up as Pandy to help steer kids to the demos and modules. Oh, boy did that work!  The kids just loved Pandy and showed it with lots of hugs, poses for photos and heartwarming comments like: “Pandy Pollution, I recycle!”; and  “I love pandas, and I love the planet!”.

By the time the last school bus pulled away from the parking lot the EPA staff was exhausted but happy having had many curious, smart and environmentally minded kids visit our demos.  The lung capacity gizmo was a hit—a nice reminder that experiments can be done at home, with simple items, they just require a little effort and sometimes (but not always) some power tools!

Check out our web site from Math and Science day for more information.