|Mount Aloysius College $65,000 Grant Promotes Science and Cleans Our Water||11/7/2012|
CRESSON, Pa. – The environmental legacy of Appalachia’s abandoned coal mines (AMD) is poor water quality from acidic mine drainage. There are more than 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams affected by this discharge. One aspect of damage mitigation involves the study of microbial life living in streams affected by mine-water runoff. Mount Aloysius College’s Science and Mathematics Department under the direction of Dr. Merrilee Anderson has been awarded a $65,760 grant to help.
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Mount Aloysius investigative team under the direction of Dr. Anderson will operate with a sub-grant as part of a larger NSF award headed by Duquesne University. The grant is entitled: “Expanding and Refining the Application-Based Service-Learning Pedagogy.” The grant involves eight regional educational institutions and seeks to encourage hands-on student engagement in both scientific research and solving community problems.
Dr. Anderson explains that acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines results from oxygen rich water flowing into the mines and reacting with heavy metals and other substances. When this acidic water flows out of the mine and back into the natural environment these new compounds can seriously impact aquatic life. One of the local AMD sites has a pH of less than 3.0, where a healthy stream might have a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
“One of our research sites will be the Hughes Borehole near Portage, Pa.,” she said. “Through repeated monitoring, we’ll determine baseline populations of certain microbes. Many of these are biomarkers,” she added. “The presence or absence of certain microbes can be an indicator of water quality. The continued documentation of these microbes can be used as a measure of the efficacy of mitigation efforts.”
In addition to the Portage site, several streams around the Southern Alleghenies area will be studied including Muddy Run, McGinnis Run, Laurel Run, Stone Run, Camp Run, Glenwhite Run, Wildcat Run, Powdermill Run, Roaring Run, Jefferson Run, Knapp Run, Olive Run and Golfcourse Run.
“Another major goal of this study is to refine our methods of teaching science and mathematics to undergraduate students,” added Dr. Anderson. “In this research project, undergraduates will have the opportunity to use technical writing skills, applied mathematical models and critical thinking to solve real-life environmental problems right in our community. This model is the very definition of Application-Based Service Learning (ABSL),” she said.
ASL uses collaborative and integrated approaches to help redefine how students are taught science, math, writing and community-based research. They get their hands dirty, solve problems and learn by doing. The Mount Aloysius College project incorporates all of these opportunities and contributes to finding solutions to a pressing environmental problem.
Dr. Anderson explains that with the funding from the National Science Foundation, and under the auspices of Duquesne University, the Mount Aloysius College project also represents both a TUES and a STEM initiative.
“TUES is an acronym for Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science,” explained Dr. Anderson. “And STEM stands for Science Technology English and Mathematics. This project allows Mount Aloysius students to achieve several valuable outcomes. Completing this needed research allows them to gain significant learning experiences not usually found in more traditional teaching models. These students will be taught and will use technical writing skills, laboratory techniques, real-life problem solving and critical thinking skills. What they learn will be put into immediate service to better their community. We think their overall experience will prove invaluable to everyone affected by the work.”
For participating undergraduates there are four primary goals. The first includes their successful use of scientific method. Second, student should come away understanding the causes and consequences of AMD and other environmental impacts of society’s energy use. Third is to encourage their ability to evaluate ethical choices related to energy and water use, enhancing their appreciation of the concept of environmental justice as it relates to Appalachia. Finally, students will work with a community partner to better understand the importance of healthy streams and the overall environmental effects on human health.
The terms of the grant allow work to being immediately and extend to the summer of 2016.
PHOTO CAPTION: Mount Aloysius student John Galebach, a junior biology major from Loretto, Pa., at left, prepares bacterial petri dish colonies. With him is MAC Chairperson of Science and Mathematics and Associate Professor of Biology Merrilee Anderson. Undergraduate research is a vital component of a new grant monitoring mine water run-off.