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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
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Blog OSCAR

Microplastics and Pollutants in The Great Lakes

Written by: Mark Derco

The great lakes are the largest coalition of freshwater lakes in the world and paramount to the success of the cities that border the lakes. However, the success of the lakes depends on the cities around them. For years industry has been contributing to the pollution of the great lakes and with this research we are looking to fill a gap in knowledge that will help us track the movement of these pollutants throughout the great lakes and in other regions of the United States.

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Blog Education OSCAR

First Generation Student Turned Researcher

As a kid, Tom Hutchinson never thought he’d get to be a scientist. Hear him talk about the thrill of DNA extraction and research, all conducted while he is an undergraduate, through the Office of Student Scholarship. Tom was the very first student researcher in Dr. Jen Salerno’s lab. He continued working with her, through the Undergraduate Research Scholar Program, with Dr. Salerno as his mentor.

With the support of George Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship the PEREC team is able to provide students with unique and life-changing research experiences.

Want to know more about Tom’s research? Here’s his video from the 2020 GMU Research Symposium.

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Blog Education OSCAR

Katie Russels Wins Student Excellence Award

Undergraduate Katie Russell conducted research on river herring with Dr. de Mutsert. She presented at the GMU Spring 2020 Symposium, where she was also award the OSCAR Student Excellence Award.

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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.

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Blog OSCAR

Alex Marchesani: OSCAR 2018 Summer Experience

Written by: Alex Marchesani

Students working with Professor Greg Foster to analyze results of contaminant levels in fish

I’ve always been fascinated with science from a very young age. Tearing through books on biology and trying to memorize as many facts as I could about various other natural phenomenon. As I progressed through my high school career, I found myself enamored with microbiology specifically. Discovering and learning all the various eccentricities and distinctive features of the different classes and species. I now find myself entering my second year here at Mason. I have taken several chemistry and biology courses thus far. Throughout my first two semesters, I began to feel something I had never felt before in regards to science. I felt bored. Not because classes were too easy (CERTAINLY not that). But somehow, the luster was fading. The endless facts and equations were becoming taxing, rather than energizing like years past. I began to fear: “Have I chosen wrong?” “I’ve never had passion for another subject, can I really change?” “What if science isn’t for me?”

I had two basic options for what to do over the summer, continue working at my local country club and wake up at 5:30AM every day to work the grounds of the golf course, or find an internship. Because you are reading this now, I think you can realize which choice I went with and why. As for my internship options, I went with science, the thing I was afraid I was losing passion for. I applied to several opportunities and sent my various cover letters and other requirements. As time passed, I began to think about abandoning everything and saving as much money as possible for the summer and work at the golf course. One day, I received an email inviting me down to a place I had never been before, the PEREC facility. The email stated that my potential mentors were impressed with my credentials and had invited me for an interview. Although I was still unsure what I wanted, I figured it would be good to explore all my options.

Upon getting to PEREC, I found myself taken aback and surprised. I had never visited a research center before, certainly not one as new and fresh and this. My curiosity piqued, I sat and waited for my interview and tour to begin. The tour consisted of informing me about the things we would be doing. Mainly, gathering data from sediment, water, and fish samples and processing them for analysis with a mass spectrometer. A mass spectrometer is an instrument which someone my age rarely gets the chance to work with. Afterwards, I sensed a slight shift in things. I have just recently come to realize what exactly it was. It was a fire inside me. Burning and raring to be a part of something I had never been before. The hunger to consume knowledge and the craving to understand how to make discoveries of my own had been reignited. I quickly accepted the offer to work at PEREC for the summer.

Since then, I have been able to peak behind the curtain so to speak. To see all the goings-on that culminates in publications and conventions and posters. What I observed was not quite what I had expected. The people here are not cold and calculating scientists, though they can be if the need arises, they are warm, jovial, and always willing to assist you. I am, to my knowledge, the youngest person working in my chemistry lab (I’m 19). Thus, I was quite anxious about working here with the least amount of previous experience, and the fact that I’m not a chemistry major like my colleagues (which I get teased for constantly). Despite a few awkward moments and lots of uncertainty in the beginning weeks, I have since developed friendships with my peers that I normally never would in this situation. I am a very introverted and reserved person, it takes a lot for me to engage others in conversation. However, because so much of the lab work was over my head, at least at first, it forced me to ask people for help, something I’m not very good at. In doing so, I started to feel a sense of “belongingness” that I have never felt towards a work environment before. I feel like part of a team of genuine friends here in the PEREC chemistry lab. The kinds of friend who will help each other with preparing samples of fish (which smelled awful) with no complaint, and then turn around and invite you to trivia night or to a barbecue for the weekend.

Not only do I feel comfortable at PEREC, I also am extremely proud of the work we do and the things we hope to accomplish. I suppose after about two pages, I should probably inform you all what it is we actually do here. My group, as part of a program run through the OSCAR office, is focusing on processing and analyzing fish samples for the purpose of validating the mathematical model we are using to construct a food web of the Potomac River. The other two parts of our project deal with water and sediment samples. The data from these samples will be input into our mathematical model (called Kabam believe it or not) and will deliver us with estimations about what levels of chemicals may be present in many organisms. The kinds of chemicals we are interested in are called micropollutants. Specifically, we are looking into pharmaceuticals and personal-care products (PPCP’s). Many of these compounds have been found in concentrations of just a few parts-per-million. While that may not sound like much, PPCP’s include things like estrogenic compounds and antibiotics. These sorts of chemicals can have major effects on ecosystems even in such small amounts. While the exact effects of many PPCP’s, as well as the sources where they originate, are not fully understood, our work here at PEREC is helping make steps towards forming more comprehensive knowledge about the Potomac and aquatic ecosystems overall.

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Blog OSCAR

Sabrina: Summer Chemistry Research on the Potomac

Written by: Sabrina Barkat

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

My name is Sabrina. I am a current student in OSCAR program for summer 2018. My work is about investigation and fate of emerging contaminants in Gunston Cove of Potomac river in Alexandria.

We extract micropollutants from water, sediment and fish samples and use liquid chromatography-mass spectrum (LC-MS/MS) method to analyze the extracts. We solid phase extract the micropollutants from water samples and use QuEChERS to extract them from sediments and fish and then run the extracts in the LC-Ms/MS instrument and we analyze the results.

After that, we apply the KABAM model to predict the bioaccumulation of chemicals in organisms’ tissues. More interestingly, the work is collaborative, and this gives me a good opportunity to interact with people with different background and be involved in group work.

This research is the best experience in my academic pathway because I feel that I absorb lot of information related to my field and I am surrounded by a huge, friendly and experienced team working with me in the lab. Moreover, this research involves lot of data analysis and use a lot of literature resources where I learn more about my research and related topics and I develop skills in data analysis and time management. I learn from every single step I process, and I strengthen my experience in the lab work, I interact with people with high experience and I learn to work under pressure of time which I can apply in my daily life as well. I, also, should admit that this research is a guide for me to pursuit my graduate program in the same field of study.

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Blog OSCAR

Outreach Events During Summer Impact Research for Undergraduates

Written by: Emily Bohr. Featured Image: Emily at Occoquan Regional Park Grand Opening

Emily Bohr at Water Quality Day, enjoying some of the reptiles brought by a local wildlife center

Hi! I’m Emily, I’m a rising junior at Mason, and I’m lucky to be an OSCAR student this summer! The team I work with is studying the Potomac River, and we work at the Potomac Science Center (a new Mason campus in Woodbridge, VA).

In addition to doing our research, we have been able to do some local outreach events, teaching kids about the water and the invertebrates in it!

The first outreach event was with Fort Belvoir Middle School, when they have their Water Quality Field Day. They come to the Fairfax Water treatment plant, and

Daphnia manga, under a microscope

there are tables set up throughout the whole plant to teach them new things! It was a super fun day, and the kids seemed super interested. Our table was about talking to kids about the water and why river mussels are so important to the Potomac river & also explaining the invasive species (Corbicula clams and mystery snails!)

The second outreach event was at Occoquan Regional park for their grand opening! This day was all about turbidity (how much dirt is in the water, and how clear it is) and also what kind of zooplankton are in the water. There was a microscope with Daphnia manga (a type of zooplankton commonly found in the Potomac River), and jars with different turbidity levels to show the difference.

I love outreach events, they make my job so much fun, and to teach kids about what I do is awesome!

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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

What’s in our water?

Curious about the results of of the 2017 summer undergraduate research?  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. Watch the video to find out what the researchers found and how this experience changed the undergraduates.