engineering

Teaming Up with Science Teachers

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

“One afternoon my high school physics teacher said, ‘Wow, you’re picking this up a lot faster than you realize, and you might have a knack for this.’ That comment sort of lit off a bell for me.”

If you ask an EPA researcher to share what first inspired them to pursue their current career, there’s a good chance they will point to a teacher or professor who sparked their budding passion in science, technology, engineering, or math with an interesting class experiment or some words of wisdom.

EPA's Gayle Hagler, Ph.D. shares her science at a science and engineering festival.

Environmental engineer Gayle Hagler shares her science. Learn more about how to incorporate her’s and other EPA science into the classroom.

EPA environmental engineer Dr. Gayle Hagler, who will be returning the favor in one of the webinars below, can remember the exact day that her teacher inspired her. “One afternoon my high school physics teacher said, ‘Wow, you’re picking this up a lot faster than you realize, and you might have a knack for this.’ That comment sort of lit off a bell for me.”

Dr. Hagler and other Agency researchers are joining forces with The National Science Teachers Association, the world’s largest organization of science teachers, to share their personal stories about the work they do helping to protect human health and the environment.

The Association’s online learning center offers free, 90-minute, web-based, interactive, live seminars featuring scientists, engineers, and education specialists from their partner organizations. The goal is to unite science teachers with nationally acclaimed experts to help them develop fun and exciting ways to engage their students in science.

Check out these three webinars presented by EPA researchers to learn more about tools you can use in and outside the classroom.

 

  • Do-It-Yourself Air Monitoring: Explore the Atmosphere and Turn on Light Bulbs!
    Date: Thursday, September 25, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    How many tiny particles are in one cubic centimeter of air? What’s the difference between “good” ozone and “bad” ozone? In this webinar, Dr. Gayle Hagler will explore what’s in the air we breathe; how and why scientists measure air pollution, and the growing popularity of citizen science. You will learn a fun hands-on activity for students to build their own air monitor that uses the latest micro sensors to measure particle pollution, commonly known as dust, and turn on light bulbs based on the level in the atmosphere! Learn more.
  • Get Energized: Interactive Generate! Game Explores Energy Choices and Environmental Quality
    Date: Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    How do we understand the costs and benefits of the energy choices we make? What happens if the mix of energy sources changes in the future? What does this all mean for our climate, air, water, and overall environmental quality? In this webinar, Dr. Rebecca Dodder will present some of tools EPA scientists are developing to help states, communities and Tribes make decisions about energy use now and in the future. It will also introduce an interactive board game developed by EPA scientists called Generate! that encourages students to explore energy choices and the environment. Learn more.
  • Exploration and Discovery through Maps: Teaching Science with Technology
    Date: Thursday, November 13, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    Are you interested in using maps to engage students in science? EPA’s EnviroAtlas tool uses a combination of maps, analysis tools, fact sheets, and downloadable data to help users understand the interactions between people and the environment. Users of all skill levels can access hundreds of maps embracing a range of disciplines including biology, chemistry, geography, and environmental science. In this webinar EPA researchers Anne Neale and Jessica Daniel will give you a first-hand look at all the resources EnviroAtlas has to offer. Learn more.

 

Below are a few more things our researchers shared on “EPA Scientists@Work” about how teachers inspired them.

I had a wonderful 10th grade high school chemistry teacher who instilled in me a love for chemistry. I knew after that class that chemistry was what I wanted to study in college.

In the early 1960s, there was a television show called Gilligan’s Island, and the character I most identified with was the professor. He was making coconut radios and figuring out meteorological events and developing new things, all in the hope of getting them off the island. The professor was a role model. Here was a guy on an island without any tools and he was trying to make a difference. I wanted to be the guy who could look at problems and find solutions involving the use of science.

I knew around the start of high school. I took a lot of math courses and, thanks to some great teachers, I was really motivated to learn more math and science. By the time I was in the tenth grade, I narrowed it down to chemical engineering.

When I was in fifth grade, I had an outstanding teacher. He did all kinds of hands-on experiments in the classroom. In one particular experiment, he separated the class into three groups where one group washed their hands with soap and water, one group washed their hands with just water, and one did nothing. The group who only washed their hands with water had by far, the most bacteria on their hands. The water just mobilized the bacteria off of their fingers. Those experiences really got me interested in science.

I was very curious as a child and always wanted to know why and how things work. My “aha moment” was probably during my freshman year in high school when one of my science teachers told me that I should study engineering—specifically chemical engineering—since I was a good math and science student.

Probably junior year of high school. My teachers were inspirational role models, and I enjoyed all of my classes. By senior year I was intrigued by practical applications of math and science, and started to think about engineering as a career path.

I’ve been interested in science since my 9th grade earth science class. It was the first time I got to do experiments and see that I could learn different things about the world through experiments.

A lot of my interest in science came from my dad, who was a physicist and professor at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. I always wanted to be like my dad.

Do you have a similar memory of a favorite science teacher or class? Please share in the comments below!

About the Author: Writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a member of the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a student contractor. When asked about her own science education, she replied: “I had a really cool forensics science class in school!”

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Green Light for Learning

By Dustin Renwick

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Movies depict bad breath as a green haze, but anyone’s breath can change a new prototype air sensor, developed by EPA researchers, from blue to green to red.

Karoline Johnson, an EPA student services contractor, worked with Gayle Hagler, an EPA environmental engineer, to design an interactive air sensor that provides an opportunity to share science and technology with the public.

Here’s how it works: When a person breathes into the box, the sensor measures the amount of infrared light absorbed by CO2. This measurement is converted into an electric signal that a computer board translates into light. The top of the sensor changes colors based on the presence of increasing amounts of CO2 we expel each time we breathe.

The sensor provides a visual starting point for broader science discussions by transforming abstract subjects into an interactive, physical display.

“We realized there are a lot of different applications for what you can teach the public,” Johnson said. She said the sensor deals directly with air quality and climate science, but it can also serve as a  tool for talking about topics such as human health, computer programming and optics.

Low-cost, portable sensors have the potential to change air quality monitoring by allowing anyone to measure air quality with calibrated devices that require little training and provide real-time data. Current sophisticated air monitors produce accurate results but scientists can’t easily move these large monitors and the costs are prohibitively high for the average person.

Plenty of challenges remain for the next-generation air sensors, including proper calibration, where the data will go, how the data can be used.

But the promise remains. A network of cheaper sensors could give students, community leaders, scientists and university researchers a more complete picture of air quality.

Johnson is currently working on a sensor curriculum and kits that teachers and students can build in their classrooms.

 

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Career Advice from Mary Pat

marypat

At school, we are constantly given assignments to work in groups.  Often it is not the subject matter that makes the projects hard, but it is the coordinating of all the group members.  I wanted to get the perspective of an EPA employee who is tasked with coordinating a variety of people, so I sat down with Mary Pat Tyson. 

 

What is your position at the EPA?

I am the Branch Chief of the Air Toxics and Assessment Branch.  I manage three different sections: Toxics and Global Atmosphere, Indoor and Voluntary Programs, and Air Monitoring and Analysis Sections.  

Do you have prior work experiences that led you to the EPA?

During college I worked in a laboratory analyzing water samples for a drinking water project.  During that time I became aware of the EPA and different programs.  I started at the EPA in the Superfund Division working on hazardous waste site cleanup.  I moved on to a Branch Chief position in the Water Division where I worked on planning and grants along with the tribal programs.

What is a typical day like for you?

On a typical day I come in, check my email, and then meetings start.  Around 8, I have people in and out of my office for the rest of the day.  I have meetings with my boss, the section chiefs, and different state agencies.  I am also the President of the Federal Managers Association for EPA and work on issues that are of interest to federal managers.

What is the best part of your job?

Getting work done!  Getting to know the people and the work that excites them.  I love hearing about their work and helping out where I can.  In my role, I get to help people achieve their highest potential.  I enjoy communicating with section chiefs to make sure we have a strong team. 

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

I grew up in the city.  I enjoyed playing at parks, but never really was a nature person.  In high school a teacher suggested I study engineering because I was good at math and science.  This eventually led to me focusing in on studying environmental engineering.

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?

I took some practical classes about project management with teams.  Those have been very useful on the job.  In addition, math, science, and chemistry classes are always important.

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

There are so many clubs and organizations to get involved with and learn about the environment.  Every neighborhood has opportunities to do your part.  In addition, the web is an info explosion!  You can learn how to start a compost pile in your backyard from a website.  It is important to stay close to the earth.  Take science and math classes.  The opportunities are endless!

 

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Women’s History Month: Honoring Achievements in Science

By Maggie Sauerhage

Ecologist Rachel Carson helped shape how people see the natural world.

An ecologist who changed how an entire country looks at the natural world. The first woman to win a Nobel prize and the only one to win the prize in two separate fields. A computer scientist whose research helped launch rockets into space. A pioneer who realized the dangers of air pollution during the Industrial Revolution. A champion in protecting endangered species. And the first African-American woman to receive a degree in bacteriology.

Who are they? Rachel Carson. Marie Curie. Annie Easley. Mary Walton. Jane Goodall. Ruth Ella Moore.

These are just a few of many inspiring women who have impacted all of us with their innovations in science, engineering, conservation, medicine, and human health protection. They have inspired generations of scientists, engineers, trailblazers, women, and men to find a place where they can make their own impact, no matter how small, in comparison to these great achievements.

March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.

In honor of women, both past and present, who have changed all of our lives for the better through their work protecting human health and the environment, this month we are profiling EPA women scientists and engineers who are striving to make the planet a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable place to live. They share their research, how they discovered their passion for science or engineering, and give advice for anyone who is interested in pursuing their dreams.

We’ll add more profiles throughout the month, so please check back as the next four weeks roll on and maybe you, too, will find a passion for environmental and human health research!

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is part of the communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Learn More:

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: Smart Investments: Technology for the Planet and the Economy

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

About the author: April Richards is an environmental engineer with EPA’s Office of Research and Development, where she helps manage EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. She recently organized the SBIR kick-off meeting for the new early-stage technology developers that received funding from EPA.

We recently held our kick-off meeting for new small businesses awarded EPA funding to develop innovative technologies for solving environmental problems. It was so exciting to have a room full of entrepreneurial engineers and scientists putting their collective brainpower toward solving such important issues as climate change, air pollution, renewable energy, infrastructure, and water quality monitoring.

“It’s great to know EPA wants us to succeed,” was one company’s way of summing up the meeting. We sure do!

The original idea of the SBIR Program was to tap into the wealth of engineering and scientific expertise of small businesses to address federal government’s pressing research and development needs. Given that small business (particularly in technology) is often referred to as the “engine of U.S. economic growth”—providing the majority of the country’s new jobs—this idea makes more sense now than ever before.

There’s never been a better time to match the need for economic growth with environmental protection through the creation of “green jobs.”

There is so much potential for developing technology that both benefits the environment and keeps the U.S. competitive in the global market. As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a recent e-mail to Agency staff, we shouldn’t have a “false choice of a strong economy or a clean environment.” The concepts are mutually beneficial.

New, “green” technologies that use less raw and toxic materials, generate smaller streams of waste, and emit fewer emissions are good for the environment and the bottom line. For example, several of the SBIR companies represented at the meeting are exploring ways to harvest what is now considered waste to create building materials, cleaner energy, or other valuable commodities.

Companies face many hurdles getting their technologies into the marketplace, where they can ultimately have a positive impact on the environment. But the potential is tremendous, and it’s reassuring to know that so many smart people are working on this common goal, and with some help from EPA, can develop technologies which help the planet and the economy.

For more information about EPA’s efforts to match technology innovation with environmental needs, visit: http://www.epa.gov/etop/

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.