math

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.

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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.

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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.

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Career Advice from Greg

Greg

In high school I always enjoyed the science classes where we got to work in the lab and do experiments.  In college, I further explored this interest in college and worked in a horticulture lab, testing horseradish tissue cultures.  Because of these interests I wanted to visit the EPA Lab.  I was lucky enough to meet with Greg Mitsakopoulos and get a tour of the Chicago Regional Laboratory. 

 What is your position at the EPA?

I’m a trace metals chemist at the Chicago Regional Laboratory (CRL).  Besides sample analysis, I provide technical direction and evaluation of the work products produced by the Region 5 contractor analyzing samples from Superfund sites.  I am also “Group Leader” for two other chemists performing trace metals analysis at CRL.

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

While a student, I participated in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s cooperative education program which led me to a Quality Assurance laboratory position at a Fortune 500 company.  There I gained experience in instrumental analysis which I believe factored into why I was selected.

What is a typical day like for you?

Many days I analyze water, soil and waste samples and produce reports on low-level metals content from a variety of EPA programs, using state of the art instrumentation.  We often measure to the part per billion (ppb) or part per million (ppm) level.  Measurements to these small amounts are needed to protect human health and the environment.  One ppb is approximately one drop of water in an Olympic-size pool!  There are ten thousand ppm in one percent.  The data I produce is used to evaluate site cleanup, to evaluate compliance with permits, to study lakes and rivers, to support enforcement, and even to support criminal investigations.  Besides analysis, other interesting projects come up.  Recently, I was on a panel to evaluate proposals from companies wishing to be on the next Superfund contract.  The Superfund contract is a very competitive, highly selective multimillion dollar contract.

What is the best part of your job?

Being able to help others at the level of the individual or of society, whether it’s producing data that will be used to protect the health of Americans, or helping others in the laboratory get the most out of our laboratory information management system.  A good part of job satisfaction comes from the people I work with everyday.

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

A book I read in childhood about “the future” painted some predictions about acid rain, the greenhouse effect, and air pollution.  These struck a chord within me.  So I was aware and concerned about of some of the world’s environmental ills early on.

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

I would say they all helped to some extent, as good “brain training”.  Math is a must- not for the sake of math- without it one would be lost in the laboratory.  Chemistry has had the most direct bearing, and has provided me with concepts and practice central to my work.  Along with chemistry, physics is useful in understanding how scientific instrumentation works.  English class- it’s good to be able to express yourself clearly in writing.

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

If you’re interested in protecting our environment, take classes in chemistry, math and physics.  These will arm you with basic concepts to understand present and emerging environmental concerns such as global warming and the mining of natural gas by hydrofracking.  Although the future may seem far-off now, it comes quickly and you are the future, so take care to begin shaping the world, or prepare your ability to shape it one day.  Your world will be well-served when you and its citizens are able to understand our effects on it.

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.

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Baths and the Environment

tubDid you know that you could help sustain underground aquifers with your choice of how you get clean?  I live in Kansas, and we, like other Midwest states, are in extreme drought conditions with no rain replenishing our aquifers.  Taking long showers or full tub baths impacts the hydrologic cycle, taking out more water than can be quickly returned.

How many gallons of water do you use?  Don’t know?  Measure the tub’s length times width times depth of the water and multiply by 7.5 to get the gallon amount.  Why 7.5?  That is the number of gallons in a cubic foot.   Yep, the math you learned does come in handy.

Use a piece of tape or water based marker to mark the height of the water BEFORE YOU JUMP IN the tub!  . Then do the math.  Archimedes discovered that when you get into the tub, the level of water will rise equal to the amount your body mass, which displaces the water in the tub. The amount can be 42 to 200 gallons depending on how much you fill the tub!

Do showers use less water?  Mostly yes, but sometimes no.  It all depends on the amount of time spent in the shower (no more than 8-10 minutes) and the type of showerhead used–low flow showerheads are best. If you take very long showers and use an inefficient showerhead, you may use more water than in a bath.  Plug the tub, and when you finish your shower , mark the height of the water in the tub. Then do the math.  But beware, those of you who take over 15 minute showers may overflow your bathtub–a real visual reminder to use less water!

Set a goal to reduce your water consumption.  One way is shower singing.  It not only makes you sound like a rock star but it can help you turn off the faucet sooner. Singing is also great for your health–studies have shown that it gives your brain a euphoric jolt that calms your nerves, gives you energy, and puts you in a good mood. Stay in the shower for only one or two songs to take shorter showers and save water!

Denise Scribner has been teaching about environmental issues for over 35 years.   For her innovative approaches to teaching to help her students become environmentally aware citizens, she won the 2012 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Her high school was also one of the first 78 schools across the USA to be named a Green Ribbon School in 2012.

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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My Secret Love Affair

By Amy Miller

I’ve never written about my love affair before. Most people who cross my path – my boss, for instance, or my child’s math teacher – have no idea how I love numbers. After all, I am paid to write words, not add and subtract numbers.

Sometimes I talk about probability while hiking a mountainside. “What do you think are the odds we will bump into someone from our town compared to the odds we will bump into someone from New York?” I might ask fellow hikers. Once a year I try, for some strange reason, to figure out again the formula for rolling a particular number on a die a particular number of times.

So when I saw the artwork of Jordan LaChance I was enthralled. LaChance takes serious environmental information and turns it into serious art.

In “Caps Seurat” he uses 400,000 bottle caps to create a reproduction of a Seurat painting. Why? To show the average number of plastic bottles consumed in the US every minute. That makes 24 million bottles an hour and … oh skip it.

In another one of his pieces, called “Car Keys” he shows 260,000 keys, equal to the number of gallons of gasoline burned in motor vehicles every minute in the US. With an average gas mileage of 20 miles to the gallon that means 1.56 million gallons an hour for 30 million miles driven each hour. (Check my math, will ya?)

There are a host of books for people fascinated by the use and misuse of numbers in the media, courtrooms and government agencies, even. They can help us interpret statistics like the ones above in a more thoughtful way. My A-list includes: “The Drunkard’s Walk,” “The Numbers Game”, “The Invisible Gorilla” and The Panic Virus.

In another favorite, the “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” I learned there is no (known) formula for prime numbers and it takes ages for even a computer to find the next one. Researching this, I found new tidbits: the largest known prime number is nearly 13 million digits long. And Mersenne Primes are all 2 to some power minus 1. As in 2 to the power of 43,112,609, minus 1. And that, BTW, is the largest prime known.

When I told this to my lifelong best friend, she got bleary. Who thinks about prime numbers, she said, incredulous. Why is this relevant? I turned her on to my A List but I haven’t heard back yet.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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Math Is Everywhere

By Lina Younes

Ever since my children were young, I tried to instill in them a love for math and science. So, when I saw the news of a new exhibit in the Washington area entitled “MathAlive,” it definitely became part of my “must see” list. Of course, I didn’t mention the title right off the bat. In fact, I told my youngest: “Let’s go see this new exhibit that has interactive snowboarding and you can also invite a friend.” She eagerly said yes to my suggestion. Although, the description pointed out that the exhibit had been designed mostly for middle-schoolers, I decided to take my chances. There were many activities for children of all ages.

The exhibit with interactive displays in English and Spanish included various hands-on-activities that clearly showed how math is an integral part of our daily life. From cooking, to music, sports, construction, transportation, built environments and nature, math is literally everywhere. As part of the exhibit, children were able to conduct some virtual “water testing” using math to determine if water bodies where safe to swim in.  Using math, children saw the direct correlation between contaminants and water conditions. There were similar experiments regarding air quality and other environmental issues. There were other areas focusing on robotics and space exploration.

While children may not have grasped all the math concepts in one visit, I think the exhibit definitely showed how learning about math can be a positive and entertaining experience. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the exhibit again. MathAlive will also be traveling to other cities in the United States throughout the year. Hope you have the opportunity to see it, too. Hope you’ll share your experiences with us.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

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.