As the environmental health science field strives to better understand the complexity of personal chemical exposures, NIEHS-funded researchers at the Oregon State University (OSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) led by Kim Anderson, Ph.D., have developed a simple wristband and extraction method that can test exposure to 1,200 chemicals.
This year the EPA Partners in Technical Assistance Program (PTAP) Pilot has launched the first project with a school located near the Black Butte Mine Superfund Site in rural Cottage Grove, Oregon.
“The overall objective of PTAP is to expand opportunities for cooperation between EPA and colleges, universities or nonprofits with the shared goal of assessing and addressing the unmet technical assistance needs of impacted communities. Through PTAP, colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations cooperate with EPA and voluntarily commit to assist communities with their unaddressed technical assistance needs. At this time, PTAP is in the pilot phase, working with NIEHS Superfund Research Program grantees as PTAP pilot partners. Following this pilot phase, the intention is to expand this project so that any interested colleges, universities or nonprofits may also join the PTAP.”
OSU Superfund Research Program has begun a partnership with EPA through this Pilot to help them expand upon their community outreach capabilities surrounding the Black Butte site.
On December 18, 2013, we met with Laurie Briggs, the Principal of the London School, because she had a strong desire to give her students and their families’ science and environmental health knowledge. About 100 rural K – 8th grade students go to London school.
Our visit included getting to know one another, listening to the needs of the school, and a school tour. We were impressed with the beauty and organization. The school built and maintains a 1/4-acre organic garden, and has a trail to a river flowing behind the property. 72% of the students qualify for free/reduced lunch, and delicious healthy meals are cooked on site.
For this project, we plan to:
1) Maintain communication through monthly meetings, and share notes and project milestones on our web site. [Our next meeting is January 30th, 2014 at OSU.]
2) Address community and educational needs.
Create a hands-on, project-based integrated curriculum related to the science of the Superfund site and mercury contamination that can serve as a model for other rural, small schools.
Discuss ways to educate the students and community and expand and build a sustainable partnership.
3) Provide training opportunities for SRP Trainees wanting outreach experience.
4) Help students understand career opportunities in environmental and life sciences.
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.
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
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.]
On Oct. 16th, Dr. Paul Slovic visited Oregon State University to share and discuss issues related to risk communication with graduate students enrolled in the TOX 507/607 seminar. This term the seminar is co-lead by the Superfund Research Center’s Research Translation Core and Training Core.
Dr. Slovic, a founder and President of Decision Research, studies human judgment, decision making, and risk analysis. His research and expertise fit nicely with this term’s seminar focus on training students to communicate science and risk effectively to audiences outside of academia.
Some key points came out of the Q and A session with Dr. Slovic.
1) The importance of message framing.
After you publish a scientific paper, focus on how you will frame that information to the public.How can you help your audience conceptualize the bottom line of the research? The facts never speak for themselves, which is why scientists need to “frame” their messages to the public.
All information is conveyed with a frame. Framing in science and risk communication can be viewed as positive or negative depending on who the audience is and what kind of information is
being presented. There is rarely neutral framing. For that reason, it is important to have a clear message thoughtfully framed to invoke a desirable response by your audience.
Create messages that resonate with your audience.
2) The role of emotions and uncertainty.
Understand that risk perception comes from our gut feelings. How you share information makes a difference, creates an image, and impacts a person’s perception of risk.
Our emotions are often tied to our motivation, positive or negative. Information will lack meaning if it does not invoke emotion.
If something is uncertain, people can interpret it the way that they want. (Example: When scientists began sharing studies that cigarette smoking caused cancer, the tobacco industry wanted to cultivate doubt, so they could keep their profits.). With certain topics, industry and others want to emphasize the unknowns and cast doubt.
When research studies are not definitive, help the public understand the strengths and limitations of that study. Frame the information so it is not biased, focusing on what the science predicts and the implications of that prediction.
Be sure to present the data the best you can if you think people are distorting the data.
3) Visuals make research real and relevant.
Visual images are more powerful than statistics. Visuals help the mind process information. Make your research real and relevant by using visuals that invoke emotion and foster scientific understanding.
Find and share this seminar’s highlights and related articles on Twitter with hashtag#TOX607
The UC Davis Entrepreneurship Academy was a unique learning experience that teaches the basics of intellectual property as well as marketing and launching a new business. While I am not currently interested in launching a company, this experience provided valuable information on how to maintain flexibility with intellectual property.
As scientists, especially in the SRP, we are always developing new methods and systems to answer our specific questions. Many of those techniques or systems are patentable. Our goal as a federally funded program supported by tax payers is to provide accurate data that can be used to develop environmental policy for a better society. I was not aware that technology used to generate that data is patentable, only in the instance that it was not described in the public domain prior to applying for a patent. Additionally, once a patent has been applied for, the specifics of the technology can be presented in the public domain as a paper, or a presentation.
Also attending the academy were several prior SRP students from UC Davis and UC Berkeley who were able to patent technologies with their respective universities as students and are now launching companies with the technology licensed through the university.
It was an interesting experience to see the traditional binary of industry or academic lines blurred.