Using Integrated Problem-based Curriculum

Lisa Troy, an 8th grade science teacher at The Sage School in Foxboro, Massachusetts chose the NIEHS-funded Hydroville Curriculum as a way to give her students a real-world problem to solve, teach them collaboration and teamwork skills, and expand their understanding of “doing” science.  She was also very interested in environmental issues and once worked as an environmental consultant on EPA’s Superfund/RCRA Hotline.

Teacher Lisa Troy shares instructions for the team building activity (toxic popcorn).
Teacher Lisa Troy shares instructions for the team building activity (Toxic Popcorn). Photo credit: The Sage School

In the Hydroville Pesticide Scenario, students work in teams to examine and clean-up a large accidental spill of metam sodium near a river.  In this scenario students take on roles of an environmental chemist, environmental toxicologist, soil scientist, and mechanical engineer. It creates a valuable experience to learn about these careers and how they work together to solve problems.

I was very pleased with how involved my students were in their roles.  Since they were responsible for their own area of expertise, they took ownership of the skills and information that they learned.  The students also enjoyed fitting their solution into the constraints of a budget, as well as considering stakeholders’ varying viewpoints.  Their parents attended the presentations and took on roles as stakeholders when asking questions.  Their presence increased the feeling of a real town meeting, and it was fun to see the students dressed up! ~ Lisa Troy

Students divide up into expert groups of Soil Scientist, Environmental Toxicologist, Mechanical Engineer and Analytic Chemist.
Students do a number of background activities to learn about the science needed to solve the problem. Topics include reading labels, toxicity testing, analyzing pumps, soil texture and permeability, and decision analysis. Photo credit: The Sage School

Communicating with a Scientist

The students were learning about toxicity, LD50, and NOEL (No Observable Effect Level) through a seed germination lab.  Lisa Troy had read about Dr. Tanguay in the recent YALEe360 article, and she shared his research with the students. The students were very excited to speak to a “real” scientist who is engaged in meaningful work and making a difference.  A highlight for the students was when they Skyped with Dr. Robyn Tanguay.

Students were especially interested to learn how zebrafish are being used as models of human response to chemicals in research all over the world.  They shared a long list of questions with Dr. Tanguay in preparation for the Skype event.

The students were intrigued by the idea that, through research such as Dr. Tanguay’s, chemical manufacturers will know much more about the effects of individual chemicals and the possible synergistic effects of mixing chemicals. They were reassured to learn of the human treatment of the fish, as well.

Not only was Dr. Tanguay’s  interview incredibly valuable, it taught my students an important lesson about research: that you can contact scientists and experts in their fields and obtain information directly from the source.  Science is not just in a textbook. ~Lisa Troy

To increase career connections, Lisa Troy asked the parents, teachers, and administrators to identify any skills that were important to them in their work or life experience from a list she generated of all the skills the students learned or used during the course of Hydroville. They checked nearly all of the skills!

As the year progresses and we study other topics, I will continue to reinforce the concepts and skills the students acquired during Hydroville and know that they will be well prepared for the future. ~Lisa Troy

[This post was written in collaboration with Lisa Troy. We truly appreciate her sharing her experience with us. If you are an educator and want more information or have a story to share, please contact us.]

ZebrafishRobyn Tanguay, PhD (Project 3 ) focuses on examining the effects of selected chemicals and chemical classes on zebrafish development and associated gene expression pathways.

The Tanguay research group recently collaborated with Terrence J. Collins, PhD, a champion in the field of green chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University.

Collins and his collaborators showed that specific green chemicals (a group of molecules called TAML activators) used with hydrogen peroxide, can effectively remove steroid hormones from water after just one treatment. Steroid hormones are common endocrine disruptors found in almost 25 percent of streams, rivers, and lakes.  Collins needed to understand the safety of TAML activators to move forward on this problem.

Tanguay’s group exposed zebrafish embryos to seven different types of TAML activators. None of the TAML’s impaired embryo development at concentrations typically used for decontaminating water.

The collaboration resulted in a new journal publication in Green Chemistry.

These are important findings that contribute toward TAML activators getting commercialized for water treatment.

Endocrine disruptors and human health

Endocrine disruptors can disrupt normal functions of the endocrine system and impair development, by mimicking or blocking the activities of hormones in wildlife. Several animal studies suggest that endocrine disruptors can also affect human health, and may be involved in cancers, learning disabilities, obesity, and immune and reproductive system disorders.

Robyn Tanguay’s leadership in utilizing  zebrafish

Robyn Tanguay is Director of the Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory, which is the largest zebrafish toxicology lab in the world.

In 2012, Dr. Tanguay received an EPA grant award, “Toxicity Screening with Zebrafish Assay”.  The award is for three years and almost two million dollars in funding to examine the developmental toxicology of at least 1000 chemicals.

Dr. Tanguay and her research team  have tested over 3,000 compounds of interest to the National Toxicology Program (NTP), to complement the ongoing high-throughput screening efforts in the U.S. government’s multiagency Tox21 research program.

More Information:

Citation: Truong L, DeNardo MA, Kundu S, Collins TJ, Tanguay RL.  2013. Zebrafish assays as developmental toxicity indicators in the green design of TAML oxidation catalysts. Green Chem; doi:10.1039/C3GC40376A [Online 15 July 2013].

To assist with the goals of Project 3: Systems Approach to Define Toxicity of Complex PAH Mixtures, Dr. Robyn Tanguay has implemented precision robots to speed up screenings of zebrafish embryos at the Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory (SARL).  These robots are unique only to Oregon State University.

Tanguay’s research group investigates the health effects of pesticides and other environmental chemicals using zebrafish embryos. The researchers expose the zebrafish embryos to various chemicals and look for malformations. Understanding these effects on zebrafish embryos contributes to the knowledge of the chemicals’ potential to affect human health, particularly with regard to developmental pathways.

The video below entitled, The Robot’s Edge: Custom automation helps scientists screen environmental chemicals was produced by Larry Pribyl and Lee Sherman from OSU News and Research Communications. They appreciated the help from Chappell Miller and others in the Tanguay lab who contributed.

Other Recent SARL Stories

  • From Zebrafish to You: Popular aquarium fish provides a window on environmental chemicals (a story and podcast from Terra Magazine, July 2013)