Helping To Build the Next Generation of Scientists

May 6th, 2012 @   - 

Vincent Lin and Jim Tang

The Ecosystems Center staff plays an active role in community outreach and education. Every year, scientists and research assistants volunteer to mentor students from the middle school and high school levels, helping them to refine ideas for their science fair projects. Many of the staff are also involved in judging projects at both the local and state science fairs.

Mentoring of seventh and eighth grade students at Lawrence School is organized by the Woods Hole Science and Technology Educational Partnership (WHSTEP). In 2012, Ecosystems Center researchers JC Weber, Sam Kelsey, Lindsay Scott, Suzanne Thomas and Kate Morkeski spent several hours with the students, helping them develop their science project ideas and organize their approach and methods. Other Ecosystems staff, eager to help the next generation of scientists, also mentored several motivated high school students who approached them independently with their scientific interests.

This year, three Falmouth High School students who were advised by Ecosystems Center scientists went on to win top awards at the Falmouth Public Schools Science Fair on March 3. The following week, all three won prizes in the South Shore Regional Science Fair at Bridgewater State University and will next compete in the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair at MIT in May.

Vincent Lin, a junior at Falmouth High School who was mentored by Ecosystems Center scientist Jim Tang, won first prize at the Falmouth fair. He also received the Mary Sears Scholarship from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as well as an award from the National Marine Fisheries Service. His project was "Effects of Fertilization and Temperature on Greenhouse Gas and Nitrogen Oxide Emissions from Soils." Jim commented on the project, "The results will inform us how to appropriately fertilize lawns and agricultural crops in order to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stocks in soils." Vincent will represent Massachusetts at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh this May. This was Vincent's third year winning of first prize at the science fair.

Another FHS junior, Ted Price, received first prize for his project, "Light Attenuation in West Falmouth Harbor." Melanie Hayn, research assistant at the Ecosystems Center, was his advisor. In addition, Ted was awarded a prize from Hydroid, Inc. His project looked at the factors that affect light penetration in West Falmouth Harbor. "He was interested in why you could see further below the water surface at some locations than others, and wanted to figure out what was responsible," noted Melanie. Ted looked at many factors, including chlorophyll, colored dissolved organic matter, suspended solids, salinity, and tidal state.

Steven Spall won second prize for his study of "Biomass Denitrification in Saltwater Estuaries." His mentor was Ken Foreman, director of the Ecosystems Center's Semester in Environmental Science. Steven won the Dr. Donald Zinn Award from the Salt Pond Area Bird Sanctuaries, Inc., and was selected as alternate to Vincent Lin for the International Science and Engineering Fair. The goals of his project, said Ken, were to use microcosms filled with wood chips to simulate a permeable reactive barrier designed to promote denitrification in the groundwater. Steven also evaluated the lifetime of the wood chips by measuring the decomposition of the wood via the release of carbon dioxide from the degradation of the wood in the outgoing water vs. the incoming water.

Ecosystems Center staff who judged at the Falmouth Public Schools science fair were JC Weber, Marshall Otter, Jim Tang, Suzanne Thomas and Miriam Johnston. Falmouth Academy's science fair, held in February, was judged by Hap Garritt. Marshall, Hap and JC also judge the science fair at the state level at MIT.

Volunteering in these educational initiatives gives the center staff an opportunity to share their own passion for science with the next generation of young scientists. “It’s an incredibly rewarding experience seeing the excitement and enthusiasm about science within the kids and the pride that they exude when presenting their final presentations,” noted Ecosystems research assistant JC Weber.

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