MercuryLogoUpdatedThe EPA Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation completed the first pilot project of the Partners in Technical Assistance Program (PTAP) with Oregon State University Superfund Research Program and the London School in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

The project aimed to give K-8 students a foundation on environmental health science, and then use local history of the Black Butte Mine Superfund Site to engage students on topics related to mercury in the environment and the impact on human health.

An educational packet, two videos (Careers in Environmental Health and The Black Butte Mine), and a teacher resource web page were created for the project.

Please visit the web site at:

During the summer months local teachers from Salem, Albany and Corvallis attend day long workshops at Oregon State University. These activities center around concepts in toxicology and are led by Diana Rohlman, EHSC Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator.

Team TOX grad students get involved and present outreach modules in toxicology, immunology and environmental chemistry.

Examples of past activities include:

Students evaluate the toxicity of household chemicals using yeast as a model system.

Students sort M&Ms by mass, size, shape and color to understand how mass can be used to identify individual chemicals. A model of a mass spectrometer demonstrates how objects are sorted based on their mass.

Students role-play as doctors, using flow cytometry to diagnose a fictional patient.

Following hands-on activities, teachers have the opportunity to tour labs that are relevant to the activities.
More information on teacher professional development and visits to OSU:
For further information and questions about the educational materials listed above, please contact Diana Rohlman.
Students immersed in the Chemical Conundrum activity.
Students immersed in the Chemical Conundrum activity.

So far this year, EHSC COEC has reached over 500 students through ten different OSU Precollege Program events.

Examples of Precollege Programs we have been involved with include:

The students range in age from 2nd – 12th grade and come from diverse areas of Oregon such as Eugene, Newport, Siletz, Salem, Ontario, and Corvallis.  Diana Rohlman, COEC Program Coordinator took the lead with help at some events from Erin Madeen and other graduate students affiliated with the Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC).  On the EHSC web page, there is a resource page for K-12 Educators, which includes curriculum, eNewsletter, workshops, and funding resources.

In addition, Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Lab hosted a 5th grade class on May 12th. See the story on the SRP blog: 5th Graders Experience All Aspects of Zebrafish Research. We also engage families at Davinci Days and Pet Days.

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. Robert 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.

Dr. Robert Tanguay uses Skype to answer questions from 8th grade students across the country.
Dr. Robert Tanguay (EHSC Investigator) used Skype to answer questions directly from the students. Photo credit: The Sage School

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.]