Education Outreach: Fun for All!

By Maureen Gwinn, Ph.D., DABT

Since 2007, the Girl Scouts Council Nation’s Capital Chapter has organized a Girl Scout Science Day to give local Girl Scouts an opportunity to learn more about science in a fun and friendly environment. 

I first became involved as a friend of the troop leader in charge of the event.  She and I would work on ideas, adapt experimental protocols and talk our science friends into volunteering at the event. 

EPA's Maureen Gwinn: "I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science."

From the beginning, experiments have been led by Cadette or Senior Girl Scouts with the assistance of volunteers, including troop ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ and area scientists. We have hands-on experiments that address concepts of chemistry, microbiology, genetics, and toxicology.  We have had discussions related to what goes into your personal hygiene products, why DNA is unique to each of us, and how forensic science can help to solve a crime.

The Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts running the experiments at a recent event were the 4th graders who participated five years ago.  It has been a pleasure to see these girls not only learn the scientific concepts well enough to teach them to the new Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts, but to watch them take on more responsibility for the event itself.  Through my involvement in this event, I have been privileged to watch those young, giggly ten-year-old girls turn into responsible young ladies – that still giggle, but do so while teaching or setting up for the next group of girls. 

This event inspired me to volunteer in education outreach at other events, including the Society of Toxicology Annual meeting, EPA’s Earth Day celebrations, and the USA Science & Engineering Festival

Volunteering in education outreach was not something I had considered in the past, but after participating in the Girl Scout Science Day for the past five years, I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science, to ask questions about how things work, and to work together to solve scientific problems. 

The Society of Toxicology Education Committee has ways to help support these types of opportunities, and for K-12 in particular we are putting together a website of ideas, experiments, and how-to’s to get you started in the new year. 

Are you interested in getting involved in education outreach, but don’t know where to start? Or are you already involved and have some tips or favorite resources to share? Please post your questions or suggestions in the comments section below so we can join forces.

The impact these events have on the kids is worth the effort. 

About the Author:  Maureen Gwinn is a biologist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment and works as an Associate National Program Director for Sustainable and Healthy Communities.  She is currently serving in her final year as the K-12 Subcommittee Chair for the Society of Toxicology and is always looking for ideas for scientific outreach.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Field Days: Learning what Air Quality Scientists REALLY Do

By Erika Sasser

EPA scientists demonstrate air pollution research equipment with students.

EPA scientists demonstrate air pollution research equipment.

So we’ve all seen those crazy moon suits that people wear when they’re trying to clean up an oil spill or work on a contaminated waste site, but how many of us have actually gotten to wear one?  Thirty lucky seventh-grade girls from the GEMS (Girls Empowered by Math & Science) program organized by Winston-Salem State University got a chance to do just that at a special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach event on July 19, 2012.

A group of EPA staff (all women, and mostly scientists, except for a few interested hangers-on like me!) manned five different stations to introduce the girls to the world of air pollution measurement fieldwork.  Our hope was to free them from “talking about” science and let them actually get their hands on the instruments and equipment we use to measure the pollution around us.

Each station gave the girls an opportunity to experience a different aspect of “life in the field.”  They were able to pick ideal case-study sites for air pollution measurements, explore a field tool bag, and figure out what size solar panel they would need to run monitoring equipment in the field.  They demonstrated their expertise with a wire stripper to connect wires between a battery and an LED light.  We’re proud to report that all the teams got their bulbs to light up!

Fulfilling the role of “an assistant volunteer with no prerequisites but enthusiasm,” I helped with the air quality monitoring equipment station.  Here we used a fan and a particle generator to simulate air pollution from an event like a forest fire.  The girls had fun changing the anemometer’s wind speed and direction readings by blowing on the sensors, testing the particle counters, and turning on the salt-water particle generator.  Fortunately there was an expert on hand to answer all their questions!

And since the day wouldn’t have been complete without shopping (always popular with teenagers), the field safety station was set up to allow them to try on and “purchase” safety gear for different environments (like respirators and protective suits) within a set budget.  Hopefully they learned a lot about protective field gear, and we got some cute pictures out of the deal!

The girls also went on a building tour of EPA’s award-winning, LEED certified facility.  But according to them, the best part of the day was getting to eat lunch in EPA’s beautiful lakeside café!

About the Author: Erika Sasser is a Senior Policy Advisor in the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.  She works on air quality and climate change issues.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Teaching Risk Assessment in Cairo, Egypt

by Abdel Kadry, John Vandenberg, and Ila Cote

My colleagues and I were delighted to respond to an invitation from Professor Dr. Osama El-Tawil, the Chairman of Toxicology & Forensic Medicine Department, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Cairo University, to provide an international training course on risk assessment. We arrived in Cairo on May 16, 2012.

Over the next three days, we offered comprehensive training on current, state-of-the-art risk assessment practices as used and implemented by EPA and various international organizations. The course is titled “Risk Assessment as a Critical Tool for Everyday Challenges.”

More than 300 men and women from throughout the Middle East attended the training. The course offered hands on training in the primary areas of risk assessment (i.e., hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, risk characterization). Additionally, we covered risk communication, because outreach to the public and other stakeholders is essential to the successful implementation of risk assessment.

Throughout the course, there were discussions of real environmental and public health problems experienced in the country. Students had the opportunity to apply skills learned in class to these problems in several small breakout sessions. In addition to learning about risk assessment, the participants formed new friendships and extended their professional networks.

The course also attracted a large number of newspapers and TV stations. This training represents a culmination of knowledge sharing among science experts in the field of risk assessment. (For more information about the course go to: EPA Risk Assessment Class at Cairo University.)

It was such great opportunity to meet the leadership team of Cairo University, especially: Professor Dr. Prof Hossam Kamel, President of Cairo University; Professor Dr. Azz Eldin Abostat, Vice President of Students Affairs, Cairo University and Professor of Agriculture Science; Professor Dr. Gamal El-Din Essmat, Vice President for higher studies, Cairo University; Professor Dr. Heba Nassar, Vice President for Environmental and Society Services, Cairo University; and Professor Dr. Fathy Farouk, the Dean of  the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Cairo University.

On Sunday, we were invited by the Dean of the Veterinary School to tour Cairo University (home to 250,000 students), meet the faculty and discuss their research. We visited the famous library of Cairo University, the veterinary clinic, microbiology laboratories, and the latest incineration facility in Cairo University, which is charged with sanitary disposal of infectious biologic materials.

About the Authors:  John Vandenberg, Division Director; Ila Cote, Senior Science Advisor; and Abdel Kadry, Senior Advisor for Scientific Organizational Development and International Activities in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Not Your Usual Summer Vacation

by Dena Vallano

For many high school and college students, summer means lazy days by the pool and not cracking open a textbook until September. However, some students are not only excited to spend their summer learning, but spend 10 weeks immersed in a fast-paced, interactive, research program called Summer at the Edge (SATE) offered through the Air Force Research Lab’s Wright Brothers Institute (WBI). A technology powerhouse that fosters world-class research and development collaborations and technology innovation, WBI brings together some of the best and brightest high school and college level students to tackle challenging research problems.

This summer, the EPA and WBI have joined forces to ask a team of 14 students a question that impacts both the EPA and the Air Force Research Lab: can citizen scientists use inexpensive, real-time sensors to collect air quality data and better understand air pollution trends in their communities?

Project Tricorder's Sensor Prototype

Through this partnership, my colleagues on EPA’s Innovation Team and I are serving as mentors to the talented young scientists as they try to piece together an answer to this question. We are working with team members of Project Tricorder, who have ambitiously set out to create a multi-faceted sensor network connected to an Android smartphone platform. As mentors, we have engaged with the team to help define their project topic and questions, provided resources on several Do-It-Yourself (DIY) air monitoring sensors, and answered technical questions related to air monitoring, data interpretation, and visualization.

I have truly enjoyed engaging these students and am continually impressed with their enthusiasm and quality of work.  Their excitement is palpable and definitely contagious. For example, the student team just sent us a prototype of their sensor housing for review – and I was completely blown away!

The students have been diligently working through June and July to develop a prototype of and test their sensor, which will measure environmental, health, and security factors such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide pollution, pulse rate, radiation, and motion. All of their hard work will finally pay off when they, along with several other student research teams, have the opportunity to demonstrate their final product at the Summer at the Edge Open House on August 13th at Wright State University. Over 100 students across more than 30 student research teams will be there to show off projects from a wide range of fields including smartphone app development, virtual reality, cyber security, and many others.

Tune into @EPAresearch on August 13 as we send updates and pictures of the exciting projects we discover at the Open House, including the sensor network developed by Project Tricorder. I have a feeling this won’t be your typical school report on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”

About the author: Dr. Dena Vallano is currently a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in EPA’s Immediate Office of the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development. Prior to her fellowship, she was a postdoctoral scholar in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Twenty Thousand…and Counting!

By Melissa Anley-Mills

@EPAresearch 20,000 followers graphicI remember the day we started our twitter account, @EPAresearch. An amazing opportunity to tag along with an EPA researcher conducting ecosystems and human health fieldwork in the beautiful forests of Connecticut had just come up for myself and a fellow member of the science communications team.

As communications folks, we were salivating. We would take photos and write about the research with excitement and passion, but we also wanted to be able to bring EVERYBODY into the woods with us to have a peek into this fascinating EPA research project.

“Microblogging” and the “tweetosphere” were just gaining traction and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a try. But I was a bit worried. Would I have cellphone coverage so I could tweet from the forest? Would it be possible? I decided to strap on my rubber boots and give it a try. It would be our field experiment.  (It turned out pretty good, I think: http://1.usa.gov/LSoUbq)

Since then we’ve live tweeted three years of EPA research news. Highlights have included People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) college student competitions on the National Mall, speeches of our VIPs, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (where we’ve given our Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award), and the fun and science learning from our booths at two USA Science and Engineering Festivals.

We’ve answered countless twitter questions, hosted behind-the-scenes lab tours for ScienceOnline participants, and just launched the My Air, My Health Challenge with HHS. We’ve shared our own research and learned about complementary efforts supporting EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment from our many EPA partners.

Today marks a milestone. We have reached 20,000 science followers!

To say thank you, we’re inviting you to send us (more) science and engineering questions via twitter. Tag them with this hashtag: #20Ksf. We will pick 20 questions to do something a little different from our usual tweeted responses. (Hint: it might involve audio of our scientists and perhaps a little creative artwork.)

Intrigued?  We’ll use our creativity to share our researchers’ answers.  Ask away using #20Ksf.

So stop the summer brain drain, think about what you might want to learn from an EPA scientist or engineer and ask us a question about science or engineering using #20Ksf!

Join us on twitter (www.twitter.com/EPAresearch) and be part of the online science conversation.  Don’t use twitter but want to be part of the discussion? We’ll also select some questions tagged #20Ksf from the comment section below.

Looking forward to your questions and to the discussions that we’ll have as we head for 40,000 enthusiastic science followers—and beyond!

About the Author: Melissa Anley-Mills manages the @EPAresearch twitter account and serves up information about EPA’s scientists and researchers 140 characters (or less) at a time!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Kicking Can

By: Christina Motilall

Boy sits in chair made of used soda cans.

A throne of recycled cans

After a hard day’s work, it is important to go home and put your feet up. Maybe even pop the tab on your favorite soft drink and relax a bit. But what if you took your empty can and added it not to your recycling bin, but to your home décor?

This is the idea behind Franklin Middle School student Samuel Roman’s Pop Can Chair.

Samuel built the chair out of pop cans for ‘Use or Lose it!” an ‘upcycling’ competition sponsored by an EPA research laboratory in Oregon. ‘Upcycling’ means taking objects normally seen as trash and making something new and practical out of them.

In this case, Samuel used pop cans (472 to be exact) that he collected from recycling bins in the neighborhood. He assembled the cans with hot glue and rubber bands, making a seat fit for an environmentally-aware king.

When asked why he decided to take on this project, Samuel said “I chose to make a chair out of cans because it is useful.” And he couldn’t be more right. The option to reduce waste by reusing items is a very useful opportunity at our disposal. As a bonus, it also has economic value.

Samuel figured this out from the chair’s inception though, noting his chair’s utility when saying “You don’t have to go to the store and buy a very expensive one. You can just make your own by collecting cans.”

Recycled trophies

Three outstanding projects were awarded trophies made of recycled materials.

Samuel’s chair is environmental-conscious and economical. No wonder it was named an Outstanding Project by judges at a reception hosted at EPA. Samuel received an ‘upcycled’ trophy and recognition by local leaders such as Corvallis, Oregon mayor Julie Manning and EPA lab director Tom Fontaine.

But the most important thing I am sure is on everyone’s mind is… how do I get one of these chairs? The answer may already be in your recycling bin.

About the author: Christina Motilall is an intern for the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

When I Grow Up

Trophies made from recycled materials

Outstanding projects received trophies made by EPA Chemist Bill Rugh out of recycled materials.

By Christina Motilall

When I was growing up I wanted to be a veterinarian. Something about helping sick animals made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. As I got older, my love for animals grew into a love for nature, and I always felt a fierce need to protect it. I have learned a lot about environmental stewardship over the years, but one thing that has always stuck with me is the need to use less… stuff.

I think the necessity to reduce consumption, re-use items, and recycle trash is essential due to growing populations and shrinking landfills. And with islands of debris forming in our oceans, the world could use a trash-disposal makeover. But how could I help? I am just one person, how could I have impact on the world around me?
One step at a time, that’s how.

That is why the ‘Use It or Lose It!” competition for Corvallis, Oregon middle school students was not only fun and informative, but also an important insight into environmental awareness.

This Earth Day challenge to ‘upcycle’ discarded bits and pieces to create new, usable items was a great success. Many impressive middle schoolers used everything from empty pop cans to old plastic bags to create truly innovative products. Proving that one person, no matter their age, can do a lot.

Sponsored by an EPA reserach laboratory, 12 semi-finalists were selected by Agency scientists from local middle schools. The semi-finalists and their families were invited to an Earth Day reception at the Corvallis lab for the final judging and selection of the top three outstand projects.

And who better to judge than local community members? Corvallis, Oregon mayor Julie Manning, artist Zel Brook, and lab director Tom Fontaine Ph.D. all put their heads together to select a pop can chair, an eco-outfit, and a solar water filter.

That’s right. In the midst of homework, family, friends, and extra-curricular activities, these students made every day necessities out of every day ‘trash.’ This competition allowed students (from a young age) to see potential in their consumption. Instead of labeling something as ‘trash’ why not judge whether or not it is useful? That is exactly what these students did and they excelled at it.

Look for posts tomorrow on the three Outstanding Projects and the inspiration behind each idea.

These kids are something else.

About the author: Christina Motilall is an intern for the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Among the Stars

By Verle Hansen

Each year, EPA participates in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with an exhibit booth to share information about how science and engineering support environmental protection. We also sponsor an award—the EPA Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award—presented to a student whose work demonstrates a commitment to environmental sustainability and stewardship.

Science Fair opening night.

Among the stars.

I am serving as one of EPA’s judges this year, so I was able to attend the opening ceremonies in Pittsburgh Monday evening. Attending students from around the world contributed greetings in the form of film clips from their home countries.

The short films were a great way to get things started. Two young Danish men merely gave the Intel theme musical “Bum-bum-bummmmm,” making their’s the most unique and memorable.

To me, this short creative gesture was a clear sign that this was an event different from others. This event is not focused on old models, but on new approaches and new ends. Even the Fair’s theme, “Inspired to change our world,” is about the future.

Okay, getting 1,549 teenager scientists and engineers in one room is naturally about the future.

But each time one imagines the future, they have to take the past into account. Pittsburgh itself is a perfect example. Forced to re-imagine and re-create itself after the decline of its primary industry, the community embraced the fact that change was inevitable, but firmly rooted in the past.

It is also the past that gives character and value to place.  But, oh how refreshing to see the future from new minds unfettered by words like “should” and “can’t.”

To simply envision the future that will have to exist to give options and opportunities to future generations is enough to inspire changes in how research is structured, or as one speaker put it Monday night: “…it is not about science, it is about imagination.”

Seeing such energetic, inquiring young minds eager to both incorporate their engineering skills and embrace the concept that people matter, I can’t help but feel that the future is indeed bright. For me, it is hard to imagine how high the future will be for each of these young people, considering that their starting point is already among the stars.

About the Author: Verle Hansen, Ph.D., is a community planner in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.