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Playing Pandy

2009 June 10

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 []. 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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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13 Responses leave one →
  1. David Lemming permalink
    June 10, 2009

    I think that was a wonderful idea and am glad that it was a hit! I am for anything that supports and educate about the environment and animals as well as anything that helps children, so you won all the way around. I wish that we had more things like this when I was growing up, it would have been nice. Congratulations on a job well done and kudos for your husband helping out (you know us guys have to use the power tools!). The panda was a great way to go as well, since that lets you help educate the kids about them too.

  2. melissaEPA permalink
    June 10, 2009

    Thanks David! :-)
    We had such a lovely enthusiastic team of EPA volunteers set up the modules and engage the kids … check out their reflections from the day on the Math and Science page:

    So – are folks interested in the “air lung capacity kit” recipe? I’d be happy to do a step by step tutorial for an upcoming Science Wednesday blog!

  3. Debbie Friez permalink
    June 10, 2009

    Thanks for sharing and inspiring story, Melissa. It sounds like you had a fun science project and eductated kids, too! Who wouldn’t want to play Pandy?

  4. HopeCongson permalink
    June 10, 2009

    What a wonderful and effective way to reach the youth. We often don’t realize what a impact we have on kids and exposing them to such important issues and a young age will make them all more aware of dealing and solving them in the future. I’m certian you have impressed a few of those kiddies to be more involved and concerned about their enviorments and the wellfair of the planet! Keep up the good work Melissa!!

  5. Tim permalink
    June 10, 2009

    Yes…I was skeptic when you said there was a Panda in the box, but quite amused when the giant Panda head came out. Glad to help with the science project, and good to know I helped educate some kids. So when is the next project I can help with. :-)

  6. Patrick permalink
    June 10, 2009

    Great story, Melissa! It certainly was an exciting day full of environmental Pandy-monium!

  7. Lina-EPA permalink*
    June 10, 2009

    Yes, I can attest to the success of the lung capacity module. The kids were excited and you did a great job at engaging them and connecting the experiment to math and science. Kudos.

  8. melissaEPA permalink
    June 10, 2009

    I’d like to give a shout-out to all the other EPA volunteers – including Patrick and Lina! A great team effort!

  9. Sheri Potter permalink
    June 11, 2009

    It sounds like you had a tremendous day. What a great opportunity to excite kids about making environmentally friendly choices. I am so excited EPA was able to connect with such a great educational opportunity!

  10. quba permalink
    June 22, 2009


    We have just added your latest post “Greenversations Playing Pandy” to our Directory of Science . You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory and get a huge base of visitors to your website.

    Warm Regards Team

  11. David Miller permalink
    June 24, 2009

    That was quite innovative of you to dress up as Pandy, I am sure the kids loved it. I am strongly support new ideas to create awareness and support the environment, after all it is our responsibility, 3 weeks from now, Company Formation is hosting an event to create awareness and to protect the environment with everyone playing their part. I think we will need something like Pandy to encourage the kids more. Also great experiment you got there, I have already come up with a few that I think will really attract kids and adults alike, thanks for sharing your experience.

  12. Dipcik permalink
    July 13, 2009

    Melissa, thank you for article. It was very nice.

    Best regards

  13. Duncan permalink
    December 22, 2009

    This is a great way to spread information for both kids and adults the effect of air pollution. In Dublin, the government and other organizations are also having awareness like this. Climate change is really changing and we can’t stop it unless we do something. Great work you did Melissa!

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