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Blog In the News

Don Kelso Learning Pier

The Mr. Rodgers of Ecology is what a colleague suggested that Dr. Don Kelso be called due to his engaging, easy-going nature and passion for connecting students to aquatic ecosystems. We are thrilled that Dr. Kelso was honored at the naming ceremony during the Don Kelso Learning Pier kick off event. This pier will allow students and researchers direct access to the Occoquan river from Potomac Science Center, which Dr. Kelso, along with Dr. Chris Jones, worked tirelessly for two decades to start. Dr. Kelso was the first freshwater ecologist in the College of Science and this pier is just one way that his passion for science communication, outreach, and education can be achieved.


Learn more about Dr. Kelso at the following links:

https://issuu.com/masonspiritmagazine/docs/mason_spirit_fall_2021/s/14331586


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0t34tX1Dhw


and Learn more about the pier here: https://giving.gmu.edu/giving/science/don-kelso-pier-potomac-science-center/

The kick-off event at Potomac Science Center
Categories
Blog Education

First Publication by a Masters Student

Cover photo: Sammie collecting samples, photo by Aileen Devlin, Virginia Sea Grant

Sammie Alexander, a Master’s student of Environmental Science and Policy, is a lead author on her first study, published with Dr. CJ Schlick and Dr. Kim de Mutsert (Read it here). Learn about her journey as a young scientist and researcher and the surprising ways scientific questions can arise.

Categories
Blog OSCAR

The Plastics We Don’t Talk About

Written by Monica Zaky

This is an example of the variety of microplastics that can be collected from bodies of water. Notice the diversity in shape, color, and size.

What if I told you that your facial scrub may be adding to the abundance of plastics in our rivers, lakes, and oceans? Those microbeads that exfoliate your face are often made of plastic. Plastics are everywhere. They are used for packaging, beauty supplies, agriculture, furniture, and even our cars. Sadly, a lot of plastics end up in water of some sorts; in creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, plastics are there, and they are becoming unavoidable. Large plastics break down into tiny pieces called microplastics, or plastics that are less than 5mm in length. Microplastics may come from anything such as clothing to beauty products such as a facial scrub. How many of these plastics are in our water systems, and how might they be interacting with other pollutants in the water?

Categories
Blog OSCAR

New Tools, New Techniques, New Technology

Dhanush and Tom processing samples in the lab

I am very excited to share what our lab has been working on for the 2019 Summer Impact Research Project: Microbial Communities as Indicators of Ecological Health. Dhanush Banka (a student from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology) and I have been working in Dr. Salerno’s lab at the Potomac Science Center, George Mason’s research center on the Occoquan River. Our environmental samples have been collected by Dr. van Aken’s lab, where fellow OSCAR student Nick Mills is working on the sediment samples. My focus is on the water samples taken from Cameron Run and Hunting Creek in Alexandria, VA as part of the environmental monitoring project that GMU does in association with Alexandria Renew Enterprises, the local wastewater processor for that area.

This is the first year that water samples are being surveyed to determine the microbial population. We have learned how to perform DNA extractions from the samples, how to quantify our results using two different methods, and also how to amplify the DNA in preparation for submitting the samples for DNA sequencing. We’ve been waiting patiently for the sequencing data, which will allow us to identify not only the types of bacteria present, but also the relative abundances to be able to get an idea of the composition of the microbial community. We’re correlating those results with rainfall, water flow, river height, and temperature data to build a profile and possibly model how changes in the environment will affect the microbial community. Since Cameron Run parallels the Capital Beltway and Hunting Creek adjoins Alexandria, the water samples are from an urban environment, and we expect the composition of the microbial community to reflect that.

Preparing for a DNA Extraction in the lab

As with most things regarding our environment, we don’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been. Without some initial information, surveys, or records, we don’t know what affect our changing climate or other anthropogenic activities are making in our own environment. The unseen microbial community far outnumbers all of the life that we can see, and because it grows so much more quickly than other visible organisms the microbial community is the ‘pulse’ of the environment. Our ability to identify microbial families through the use of environmental DNA is a breakthrough, a new tool that we’re only beginning to learn how to use. We now have the genetic tools available to discover far more detail about the world around us than we have ever had in our history. As an older, non-traditional student, I’m excited to be part of this research, even as an undergraduate student. These new tools, this new technology, and these new techniques are what inspired me to pursue a degree in biology. That’s what I wanted to learn and that’s why I’m at George Mason University where I am part of a team using these tools to conduct real field research in my own community.

Categories
Blog OSCAR

Chau Pham: OSCAR 2018 Summer Experience

Written by: Chau Pham

I am participating in the 2018 summer OSCAR program as a member of the chemistry team at the Potomac Science Center. My research goal is to quantify the concentrations of endocrine disruptive compounds (EDCs) and pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in Gunston Cove. By measuring the present of these chemicals in the watershed, we can further examine the effect of bioaccumulation and the water quality after treatment.

The chemistry team worked with water, zooplankton, filters, sediments, clams, submerged aquatic vegetation, and three species of fish, which were collected by the ecology team. Water samples were processed differently from other samples. Firstly, the collected water was filtered through 2 layers of glass microfiber filter GF/F and GF/D. Then, we used 2 different methods to perform solid phase extraction: HLB, to obtain EDCs, and AXCX to collect PPCPs. The QuEChERS method was used for other samples preparation. Finally, all of the samples were transferred in auto sampler vial in order to load into HPLC/MS/MS, which is a powerful and sensitive instrument to identify and

The evaporation step that we used in extraction of micropollutants from water samples

quantify chemical concentrations in nanograms. The chemistry team was divided into 2 groups to analyze data for EDCs and PPCPs. I along with 2 other members have been working with LabSolution software to analyze the data for EDCs drug schedule. We found different species of sunscreen agents, NSAID, as well as herbicides in samples from Gunston Cove watershed suggesting that wastewater effluent and storm water run-off contribute are sources for pollution and bioaccumulation.

Through summer OSCAR program, not only did I gain valuable skills, I also learned tremendous knowledge about current research at George Mason University. My mentors and the PEREC team have worked hard to arrange brown bag seminar every Friday where I can learn about interesting and exciting research, jobs, and projects on environmental sciences.

Categories
Blog

Interview with GMU Field Interpreter

Interview with George Mason senior (Class of 2018) Christina Suarez about her experience working with PEREC’s Field Interpreter program, which is directed by Dr. Cindy Smith.

Categories
Blog Education

Occoquan River Clean Up

Dr. Dann Sklarew‘s Sustainability in Action course (EVPP 480) always participates in a river clean up. This is the third clean up of 2018, during the summer session, and students enjoyed great weather for kayaking on the Occoquan. Balloons, a beach ball, water bottles, and fishing line were some of the most commonly found items. The kayaks were generously provided by Occoquan Regional Park.

Categories
Blog Education

Environmental Science Students Engage With River Partners

Featured Image: Dr. Dann Sklarew‘s Sustainability in Action Course did a clean up of the Occoquan river in April 2017. They braved the wind to collect 19 bags of trash! The most commonly found items were bottles (glass and plastic), Styrofoam, and fishing line.

Dr. Chris Jones piloted PEREC’s trusty skiff, navigating the lower Occoquan, and assisting with mile marker sign installation

Being part of a river community has tremendous perks. Our students and faculty have worked with John Houser and the Occoquan River Community for years, conducting research sharing family-friendly water quality activities at the Occoquan River Festival, as well as updating the community on research and programming on annual Rivershore cruises and participating in river clean-ups. This community has provided Mason students with diverse experiences as well as valuable networking connections.

Environmental Science and Policy students Nick Hanna and Michael Rollins assist OWL volunteers with mile marker sign installation.

When the Occoquan Regional Park Manager, John Houser, and the Occoquan Water Trail League (OWL) needed help to complete the installation of mile marker signs along the 40mile stretch of river shore, they immediately looked towards hiring George Mason students. The OWL is a volunteer affiliate of the Occoquan Water Trail and NOVA Parks, composed of recreational paddlers and others committed to low-impact use, conservation and resource stewardship of our shared waterways. Weather and tides permitting, river marker sign installation should be completed by the end of June.

We’re proud to be a part of the newly organized Occoquan River Communities Alliance, said PEREC’s Dr. Cynthia Smith, where the business, university, parks, town, arts and communities routinely come together supporting each other.

Categories
Blog Education OSCAR

PAID Undergraduate Research Position!

Paid Summer Research for Undergraduates

Have you been following last summer’s OSCAR research on micropollutants in the Potomac? Are you an undergrad who would you love a PAID summer research experience like that? There are TEN positions open!

Apply now at https://gmu-csm.symplicity.com/

Watch the video below to see how much last year’s OSCAR students loved their experience!

Categories
Blog Education OSCAR

Micropollutants in the Potomac

Led by principal investigators Amy Fowler and Kim de Mutsert, the Summer Team Project looked at the effects of micropollutants on the Potomac River watershed. Projects were funded by the Students as Scholars at Mason as well as the Patriot Green Fund, and the videos were produced by graduate student, Chelsea Gray, thanks to the Virginia Sea Grant.