high school

Building the Zephyr Wind Turbine

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When I entered Mahtomedi High School as a freshman, I wanted to join a club. I quickly realized that we didn’t have any clubs related to sustainability or the environment. I knew that several of my friends shared my interest, so I asked my friend, Spencer Legred, if he wanted to help get a club started. As freshman, we became the co-presidents of the Mahtomedi High School Eco Club. We have continued to meet every other Friday morning before school and consistently have had a group of about 15 students of all grades participating.

Fortunately for the Eco Club, there was a group in our community called the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative that was very interested in working with us. The year we started, we found out that they were striving to put up a wind turbine in Mahtomedi near the high school. We thought it was a great idea, especially since our school mascot is the Zephyrs, and they were excited to have high school students get involved in the project. Not only would the students be enthused about something in our first year as a club, but we could also show the community that the issue was indeed important to the youth of our community.

We really got engaged in the project by selling t-shirts, designed by one of our members, to promote and raise money for the wind turbine. We attended sporting events, community festivals, the local farmers market and anywhere else we could find to try and raise awareness of the project in the community and raise money. Many of us that had been together in girls scouts even donated several hundred dollars that we had made over the years selling cookies. Altogether, our club directly raised almost $2,000 for the project and inspired dozens of community members and businesses to donate and raise the $100,000 needed for the project to be completed.

In 2011, the summer after my sophomore year, the community was able to install a 10 kilowatt wind turbine in our newly renovated stadium. Our Zephyr Wind Turbine is now an icon of the sustainability efforts happening in our community and a learning tool in our classes and for everyone that visits our school. I have continued to lead the Eco Club with Spencer all four years of our high school careers as we have tackled other smaller projects to help make our school more sustainable. The Mahtomedi Eco Club is very excited to be receiving the 2012 President’s Environmental Youth Award for all of our efforts.

Katie Ledermann is graduating from Mahtomedi High School in 2013 and will be attending the University of Minnesota – Morris to pursue degrees in environmental studies and management. She hopes to one day own and manage a sustainable business.

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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Feeling Squirmy

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During the Pioneer Valley High School Summer Science Institute, I had the opportunity to research something new. I chose to do my project on mealworms. In places like Africa or Mexico, mealworms are eaten to survive. They are high in protein and low in fat. My project was about the respiration rate of mealworms in hot and cold temperatures. For the first part of my project I tested 5 groups of mealworms, each containing 5 mealworms, in hot and cold temperatures which were 35°, 55°, 75°, 95°, 115°F and recorded their respiration rate using a CO2 probe at those temperatures on my LabQuest2. I found that a mealworm’s respiration is rate is greater at hotter temperatures than at a colder one. For the second part of my project, I investigated if keeping mealworms at a hotter temperature would increase their growth rate. I had two large beakers filled with oatmeal and 25 worms in each; one was on a heating pad while the other was kept at room temperature. My results showed that if you kept mealworms at hotter temperatures, they would grow faster. Within 5 days, I found 13 pupas in the beaker on the heating pad and zero in the beaker at room temperature.

This Science Institute has been very helpful.  It has shown me many of the scientific fields that are out there. I might want to do this when I get older. You get to learn so much. And the people that donate to our project have been a tremendous help; we wouldn’t have been able to do our projects without their support. I learned so much about myself. For example, I’m really good with computers. There are always those bad moments too, like when I thought my work had been erased and that it wasn’t saved to my flash drive…luckily, it was, though!

It’s been a very educational, yet fun, summer. It’s interesting to see our results because you just don’t know what they may be. If they’re wrong, all you can do is just try again. It’s all a learning process. Our projects are able to help our community. Knowing that I have proven mealworms grow faster in warmer temperatures means that I am able to help get food faster to the people whose lives depend on them. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that I can make a difference as a teenager.

Cynthia is a 10th grader at Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, CA.  The soon to be 15 year old is a cheerleader and also is involved in the AVID program at school.  With plans to study science in college, she enjoys watching movies and having sleepovers with her friends in her free time.

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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A Windy Summer

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a scientist and work on a problem that you don’t have the answer to?  I got to help six students do just that during the summer of 2011.  During the 2nd annual Pioneer Valley High School Summer Science Institute, six of my students built their own wind turbine.  They analyzed different aspects of wind, wind turbines, and how they impact the environment.  One group, Pei-Yang and Elizabeth researched if the sound of the wind turbine had an impact on the local creatures of the ecosystem where we live in Santa Maria, California.  They concluded that the wind turbine did add to the noise in the ecosystem. Although the noise from one turbine was not significant, the students concluded that wind turbines rarely exist alone and that since noise is cumulative, it is certainly possible that a whole field of turbines could cause a statistically significant amount of noise that could disrupt mating rituals or migration patterns.

Another pair of students, Marc and Jason, used the concept of biomimicry twice as they developed the design for the wind turbine.  They copied the tubercles from the humpback whale on the blades of the turbine to see if this would increase the efficiency of the blades.  They also built a tail for the wind turbine that allowed it to self-correct; the shape of the tail was based on one of the most maneuverable fish in the ocean: the thresher shark.  They concluded that each of these modifications did enhance the efficiency of their device.

The final group, Sharmaine and Melissa , tested 8 different motors to see which one produced the most power in standard testing conditions (using a fan).  It turned out that the motor that the kids bought online was the strongest motor! 

I saw my students learn not only about wind turbines, but also about themselves.  They learned how to use a drill and how to cut wood with a saw.  They went into the hardware store many times looking for parts that they needed.  They talked to many adults about their projects, sometimes to explain it, sometimes to ask for advice.  I saw them come together as a group, have disagreements when the project didn’t work, and battle back to devise a solution.  I saw them develop the skills that the need to be successful in the real world and I am very proud that I was able to be involved.

Riccardo Magni has been teaching high school science for 16 years in California.  He is a winner of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.  In his spare time, the husband and father of three competes in powerlifting meets and coaches youth sports.

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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“Mom, Will You Drive Me to the Mall?”

Are you sick of having to ask your parents to drive you everywhere? Sick of sitting in traffic on the way to school, in the carpool dropoff line, and to every weekend activity? My kids were.

For 10 years, we lived in the outskirts of Silver Spring, Maryland, outside Washington, DC. We were far from everything, except a park and a pool. We spent at least 10 hours a week in the car, driving back and forth between school, fencing class, and running meets. I also drove to work downtown, which should have taken 20 minutes, but regularly took up to an hour in traffic.

My boys are both runners, but they couldn’t run very far from home without hitting a major road. If they wanted to visit friends or go to the mall, they had to rely on me to take them. (Since I’m not always punctual, that drove them nuts.) I couldn’t stand it, and five years ago, I decided to look for a house downtown that was closer to work, fencing, and school.

For years, downtown Silver Spring was ridden with empty storefronts and empty streets. Then the city turned to smart growth. Smart growth strategies can help a community develop so that it’s walkable, and convenient to stores and public transit. People walk more, so they get more exercise. They drive less, so there’s less traffic and air pollution. They shop downtown, which helps the local economy.

In 2003, a large corporation put its headquarters near the Silver Spring subway station. The city built an outside pedestrian mall, with stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and a green community center, which has a skating rink in winter.  Three supermarkets are within walking distance and there’s a farmer’s market every weekend. Now people come downtown all the time.

We moved to a neighborhood right across the street from my office and my boys immediately loved it. They took the school bus to school and the city bus back after practice. They often hopped on the subway to visit friends or go to the mall.

Five years later, my younger son often runs the six miles home from his high school on a nearby bike trail. My older son is at the University of Maryland studying environmental policy; he can take the subway home on holidays. And I walk 5 minutes to the subway to get to my new job at EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities, which manages EPA’s work on smart growth.

Organizations across the country are working to help communities revive or grow using smart growth principles. If you’re interested in a career in this field, consider environmental policy, planning or architecture. Learn more about smart growth at www.epa.gov/smartgrowth.

Susan Conbere is a Communications Specialist with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities in Washington, DC.

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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The Fairview Net Zero Club’s Experience with Energy Audits

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The main concept behind an energy audit is evaluating the energy use in a building to find the best way to reduce energy consumption and optimize savings. A proper audit can be complicated, especially if you are not a professional. However, the Fairview Net Zero Club has found that a simplified version may be just as effective in achieving the basic goal reducing energy use. We walked through Fairview High School and recorded the appliances and other electronic equipment in every single room. Using an electricity usage monitor, we measured the wattage of each device. In the end, we discovered wasteful uses of energy. For example, we counted a total of 51 refrigerators in the entire school. It gets worse. Most were empty and left running during the summer, some were from the 70s, and none were Energy Star rated.

Our proposed solution was to replace the 51 refrigerators with fourteen larger Energy Star refrigerators. We could pay for the new appliances with the energy savings in less than two years. Also, we invited the school district’s sustainability coordinator to join us for part of the audit. Partly as a result of our findings, she is coordinating an energy reduction challenge at fourteen of the district’s largest schools, getting employees to turn off appliances over breaks.

Overall, the process of walking through a building and identifying unnecessary uses of energy can be done anywhere—at home, at an office. Solutions to reduce energy use are often quite obvious and one doesn’t need to be an expert to figure out how to make your home or office more efficient.

Cindy Zou is a senior at Fairview High School and the Co-President of the Net Zero club. She is an IB Diploma candidate and plans on studying biological chemistry in college. Outside of school, she figure skates, and works as a tutor at Kumon Learning Center.

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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Community Service…Pick a Project!

Many students need to complete a community service project as part of a class in school.  The new student’s website has a whole webpage dedicated to community service projects and ideas.

Be sure to check it out,  and let us know what your community service project is!

http://www.epa.gov/students/communityservice.html

Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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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Making an Environmental Video

studentMany grants require a video application: the Green Makeover Contest was no exception for the Fairview Net Zero club. We made a ten minute video to apply for an award of $65,000: but how could we create a plan of action to green our school and portray it effectively in a video? We decided to address three solutions and integrate them into our budget proposal: Efficiency, Visibility, and Involvement. From these, we created ideas to impact the community through our proposed purchases: placing solar lights in highly visible areas such as the parking lot rather than just a few classrooms, purchasing trees for students to plant, and buying environmental documentaries for teachers to show students. We structured our video exploring our three solutions and explaining how our budget proposal reflected these goals. Several students showed interest in our green initiatives; we filmed them expressing their excitement and interviewed important administrators and environmentalists about our ideas. For the technical aspects of video making, we teamed up with the film teacher and one of his students to facilitate video production. By enlisting their help, interviewing, and finding three simple and broad solutions, we were able to create a highly effective video application as well as envision future goals for our club and community.

Lizzy is a junior in the Fairview High School Net Zero Club. She is in the IB program and also enjoys swimming for her high school team as well as playing the violin in local music groups. In college, Lizzy hopes to pursue her interests in science and the environment; she aspires to help find a solution to global warming.

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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Una palabra con cinco letras para un gas radioactivo inerte

El otro día trabajaba en un crucigrama del periódico bastante difícil cuando me tropecé con esta clave – palabra con cinco letras para un gas radioactivo inerte. Bien, me dije a mí mismo, creo que sé ésta. Tiene que ser radón. Me hubiera gustado que el resto del crucigrama fuera igual de fácil!

Enero es el Mes Nacional de Acción de Radón y estoy escribiendo este blog para crear conciencia acerca de los peligros del radón. Afortunadamente, aquí puedo ofrecer más información que la clave de un crucigrama.

El radón es un gas que se produce en la naturaleza del uranio radioactivo en el suelo y en las rocas que se encuentra alrededor del mundo entero. Ya que los materiales radioactivos se descomponen y cambian con el tiempo, usted podría pensar que el uranio se desintegra. Sí, de hecho, se desintegra, primero y se convierte en radio, y después de un tiempo, el radio se desintegra en radón. Ya que el radón es un gas, este se mueve fácilmente a través del suelo y fluye desde el suelo hacia la atmosfera y los edificios. ¿Ahora comprende por qué me preocupan los niveles de radón en los hogares?

De hecho, aunque parece una idea descabellada, el radón puede adentrarse fácilmente en su hogar. Tome como ejemplo donde yo vivo, en nuestro frío clima del medio oeste, necesitamos calentar nuestros hogares. Al calentar el aire, el aire tibio sube y crea una mayor presión arriba y una baja presión abajo, que básicamente trabaja como una aspiradora que succiona el suelo debajo de la casa. Es por esta razón que vemos niveles elevados de radón en los sótanos y en los pisos bajos de algunos edificios.

Peor aún es el hecho de que aunque usted no puede ver ni oler el radón, éste si le hace daño. ¿Pensaba que el proceso de desintegración eliminaba el radón? Pues, claro que no lo elimina. El radón es radioactivo, así que también se descompone, y cuando lo hace libera partículas alfa. En sus pulmones, las partículas alfa causan daño al golpear los tejidos. El respirar muchas partículas alfa puede causar serios problemas de salud, incluyendo cáncer. El radón es la segunda causa principal de cáncer pulmonar, y la primera causa de cáncer pulmonar entre las personas que no fuman.

Por su salud y por la salud de su familia, haga la prueba de radón en su hogar. Hacer la prueba es la única manera de saber si los niveles de radón en su hogar están elevados. Si encuentra niveles de radón altos – 4 picocuríes o más – haga los arreglos en su hogar- lo cual también es fácil de hacer. Simplemente mire la página web de radón de la EPA. Me gustaría que el resto del crucigrama hubiera sido tan fácil como es hacer la prueba de radón.

Jack Barnette es un científico ambiental que trabaja para la División de Aire y Radiación en la oficina regional de la EPA en Chicago. El señor Barnette ha trabajado con la EPA desde el 1984, Antes de unirse a la EPA, trabajó para la Agencia Medioambiental del Sstado de Illinois. El señor Barnette trabaja en un número de asuntos del medio ambiente y salud publica incluyendo la calidad del aire interior, protección de radiación, educación en asma y monitoreo del aire.

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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Writing Grants

studentGrants. The word sounds very outdated, or at least like a project forbidden to anyone outside of the workforce. However, youth can readily access this often overlooked form of revenue, as a means of funding their ideas for positive change. Grants allow one to avoid countless hours spent making cupcakes, in order to develop a valuable skill. Bake sales for the environment may raise money, but at the same time they contribute to childhood obesity. One problem is solved, while another is created. In turning to grants, those hours can be spent learning an ability that is useful forever, one that allows access to large reserves of money waiting for those dedicated enough to pursue them. There are many small grants available for projects, especially for youth, so it is important to gather information for a good idea. The hardest part about grant writing is finding the time to sit down and work, that is why there is so little access to this rich resource. The rewards of several hours are great: to the order of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, much more than could be gleaned from several hundred cupcakes. So the next time you have a great idea, or just need a little extra funding for your organization, think grants!

Kira is a Junior, active in school clubs. She is active in Art Club, an IB student, Teacher’s Assistant, a tutor for math, and plans on studying in Japan for six weeks next summer.

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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From Teen Driver to Green Driver

By Wendy Dew

Everyone is talking about how best to educate students about the environment. It seems to me one of the best ways is to let students take what they have learned and pass it on. Only teens can grasp the best way to reach out to each other and one amazing teenager did it through video!

Katherine Schultz, a newly-licensed seventeen year old driver, saw an opportunity to help a new generation of drivers become more environmentally responsible drivers. She created a video with the help of family and friends entitled “From Teen Driver to Green Driver.” She also stars in the video! The four minute video provides important tips for drivers to lower their fuel consumption and emissions. The video was done with the support and guidance of the State of Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles. She has reached out to driver education schools in Connecticut and offered them a free DVD of the video if they commit to using it with their students. Katherine has even been getting involved with promoting the green driver message in Connecticut state politics with her State Representative. Go Katherine!

Here at EPA, we’re not teen drivers anymore, but we have some green tips for all drivers.

Tips for Driving the Smartway®:

  • Buy smart

Use our Green Vehicle Guide as a resource in selecting your next vehicle.

  • Drive smart
  1. Be aware of your speed – obeying highway speed limits can save fuel, as well as prevent pollution.
  2. Avoid rapid accelerations and braking, which burns more fuel.
  3. Use cruise control and overdrive gears.
  4. When you aren’t in traffic, turn off the engine rather than idle for more than 30 seconds.
  5. Remove excess weight from your trunk, and if you have a removable roof rack and aren’t using it, take it off.
  • Take care of your vehicle
  1. Your vehicle is designed to perform best when maintained according to the instructions found in the owner’s manual. A poorly maintained vehicle can be more polluting and less fuel efficient than one that’s well-maintained. If the “Service Engine Soon” light comes on, you may have an emissions problem, so have your vehicle checked by a mechanic as soon as possible.
  2. Keep your tires properly inflated. Low tire pressure means lower fuel economy.
  3. Replace your air filter regularly. A clogged air filter can reduce fuel economy significantly.
  • Use your vehicle less
  1. Whenever possible, combine activities and errands into one trip.
  2. Take advantage of public transportation and carpooling.
  3. Bicycling or even walking can be suitable (and healthy) transportation alternatives.
  • Take care when filling up

Gas fumes are harmful to you and the environment. Topping off your tank beyond the automatic shutoff point will cause fuel spills as well as emit more toxic fumes into the air. In very hot weather, try to refuel early in the morning or late in the evening when less fumes evaporate. And if you live in an area that has Ozone Action Days, try to avoid filling up on those days.

  • Use Alternative Fuels

If you own a Flex Fuel Vehicle (FFV), you can fill your tank up with a fuel blend containing 85% ethanol or with traditional gasoline. Ethanol is produced from renewable crops such as corn, and has lower greenhouse gas emissions. To find out if you own a FFV, go to the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. Their Alternative Fueling Station Locator will help you locate alternative fuel stations in your area.

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.