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Blog In the News

New Mural at Potomac Science Center

TakerOne, a visiting artist from Hungary, creates a mural entitled, “Fauna of Belmont Bay” at George Mason University’s Potomac Science Center featuring wildlife native to the Potomac River, in Prince William County. photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

There is a brand new mural at Potomac Science Center! The mural was painted by TakerOne, an artist who hails from Hungary.

New mural at Mason’s Potomac Science Center highlights native species

There’s a guy spray-painting a wall in the Belmont Bay area of Woodbridge, Virginia, and the community members couldn’t be happier.

The guy is international graffiti artist TakerOne, and the wall he is working on belongs to George Mason University’s Potomac Science Center. His mural, “Fauna of Belmont Bay,” is part of the Murals at Mason’s larger eco-consciousness mural series titled Elements, and the result of a university-community partnership.

In the “Fauna of Belmont Bay,” the muralist and street artist from Budapest, Hungary, highlights four species that inhabit Belmont Bay: the yellow swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus), the tree frog (Hyla cinerea), the wood duck (Aix sponsa), and the North American river otter (Lontra canadensis). Read more.

New Belmont Bay mural showcases wildlife native to the Potomac

On his website, TakerOne says he wants people to stop and say “wow” when they see his work. His goal is to add color to gray cities and to “beautify our built environment” on a grand scale. Last week, TakerOne began creating a mural on the science center’s parking garage that highlights the biodiversity of the Potomac River one spray can at a time. Read more.

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Blog OSCAR

My Research, In a Snail Shell

By: Grace Loonam

Photo taken at Hopyard Landing, a site on the Rappahannock River. This sample was taken in twenty minutes, with a total of 272 invasive and 90 native snails being collected during this time.

This summer, I have been working on a Summer Team Impact Project at the Potomac Science Center in Woodbridge, Virginia. I have been studying an invasive species of snails―termed mystery snails―and by collecting samples of these invaders and their native counterparts, I aim to learn more about the mystery snails as a whole, as well as how their parasitology differs from that of the snails that are native to this region. This research is important because both invasive species and parasites threaten the biodiversity of an ecosystem, and biodiversity is important for ensuring that the ecosystem can withstand stressors and catastrophic events that would otherwise destabilize the ecological balance. The overarching project is focused on aquatic communities as bioindicators of change, and although the other members of my team specifically focus on the Potomac River for their research, I also sample from other rivers in the Northern Virginia area.

It’s been very exciting to take part in research that allows me to experience lab-based research as well as fieldwork. The amount that I’ve learned in both settings is unreal (pro-tip: it’s a lot easier to find and collect snails at low tide), and the following picture was taken of me while collecting snails from a site on the Rappahannock for the second time, as we could hardly find anything the first time around.

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Blog OSCAR

Microplastics in The Tidal Freshwater Potomac River

By: Han Nguyen

Figure 1. A surface water sample from Hunting Creek (Alexandria, VA) after a storm, ready for quantification

My name is Han Nguyen and I am a rising junior majoring in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry. This is my first summer participating in the OSCAR Summer Team Impact Project. Prior to participating in this program, I had never conducted a scientific study that is laboratory based or really gotten into the field to collect samples. Hence, what I have been doing in the past two months has been very fascinating because of the luring attraction of “not knowing what I am doing” if that makes sense. Under the supervision of both Dr. Gregory Foster and Dr. Dann Sklarew, I am currently working with another OSCAR student and a high school volunteer on the microplastics team to determine the presence and abundance of microplastics in the aquatic ecosystems of the tidal freshwater Potomac River. I specifically conduct a scientific research to determine the concentrations of microplastics within the environment (i.e., surface water, sediment, stream) and learn more about the relationship between them and population density.

We know that plastic or microplastics contaminating the oceans is one of the world’s growing concerns, but there are things about microplastics that remain understudied. This includes fate, behavior, and effects of microplastics in freshwater. This is why when OSCAR’s microplastics research theme arose, I could not wait to join this amazing team.

Figure 2. The manta net floats on the surface for microplastics sampling in the Anacostia River (Washington, D.C.)

So far this summer my team and I have been doing a lot of field work and processing our collected samples for microplastics quantification. We were very excited to have access to the new manta net designed specifically to sample microplastics that PEREC got this year. I have mainly worked on processing rough samples and dealing with reaction-related tasks, and my teammates would handle the counting and computer work. But, of course we always look out for each other. As we are done with sampling, my team and I now spend most of our time in the lab together examining microplastics through a dissecting microscope. We could not be more excited to present our results to and interact with general and academic audiences at OSCAR Summer 2019 Celebration of Student Scholarship and Impact.

Researching microplastics in the environment is a long-term task and quite challenging, but here with OSCAR initiating this line of research at the Potomac Science Center I am very grateful to OSCAR and my mentors for the opportunities and guidance.

 

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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.

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Blog Education In the News

Potomac Science Center Dedication

This week, the public were welcomed to the Potomac Science in Belmont Bay, for the Potomac Science Center Dedication Ceremony!

The event was highlighted by several publications:

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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.

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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.

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Blog OSCAR

Are Potomac Fish on Drugs?

OSCAR students Lisa McAnulty and Tabitha King talks about their summer 2017 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. 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.

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Blog

What’s at the Bottom of the Potomac River?

Laura Birsa pulls the ponar onto the boat
Laura Birsa pulls the ponar onto the boat

Written by: Chelsea Gray

Each year, researchers and graduate students from PEREC gather data on Gunston Cove, located just downriver from the Norman M. Cole Jr. Pollution Control Plant. This study has been used to determine the health of the Potomac River for over three decades.

How is a river’s health determined?

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Blog OSCAR

Looking for Summer Research Opportunities?

Update: Applications are closed, and applicants are currently being considered. The project has received a further $12,000 from Patriot Green Fund

Paid Summer Research OpportunityPEREC faculty Amy Fowler and Kim de Mutsert are currently looking for dedicated undergraduates to participate in a one of a kind research experience. The paid, 10-week summer program will give students the unique experience of collaborating with experienced faculty in research and scientific communication.

What kind of research will students be doing?

Students will assess biological and chemical aspects of two Potomac locations, Hunting Creek and Gunston Cove. PEREC faculty has sampled both of these regions, but the OSCAR research study will be the first of its kind.

While each student will focus on one specific area of research, together each project will look at the effects of micropollutants, such as mercury, in the food web. Students will collect data on the population of invertebrates, fishes, and zooplankton in the river. This is considered a good indicator of overall ecosystem health, as “sensitive” organisms are less likely to be found when there are pollutants present. A high diversity of organisms is also indicative of a healthy ecosystem.

Students will also test the river bottom to see if there are any micropollutants present, and if so, how deep in the sediment? When compared to the biological data, students will be able to determine if there is a correlation between less pollution and more organism diversity.

Not only will students get to help design and implement a research project, they will also get to participate in community outreach. Students will get to hone their oral communication skills through two oral presentations, and will also get experience writing a scientific report.

Why is this research important?

Potomac Science CEnter
The brand new Potomac Science Center where students will conduct their research

Studies have demonstrated that micropollutants (substances which are toxic in small doses) can build up in the environment, whether that be the sediment, or through the food chain. Bioaccumulation is when animals higher up in the food change have higher amounts of micropollutants, due to the fact that they consume many small organisms (such as zooplankton) that have consumed pollutants.

While few people swim in the Potomac River or eat the fish from there, the Potomac is a Chesapeake Bay watershed. There is a strong change that micropollutants found in the Potomac can make their way to the Bay, where many people spend their summers fishing and swimming.

Not only will students demonstrate if micropollutants are present, the two different areas might help identify how much they are related to anthropogenic (human) inputs. A food web study, a watershed analysis, and a science communication component will complement the ecotoxicology research to better understand the source and fate of micropollutants in the Potomac River watershed.

How is it funded?

Dr. Fowler and Dr. De Mutsert have both successfully teamed up to earn two grants to fund student research.

From the Virginia Sea Grant, $5,000 were awarded to support student summer research. Dr. Fowler and Dr. De Mutsert have also won an impressive $38,000 from the OSCAR Summer Team Project Grant.

Dr. Fowler is especially excited for the summer, because she is a new faculty member, and can’t wait to meet new undergrads, who she hopes to mentor “as early as possible” in their academic career.

“Mentoring makes me a better teacher and a better scientist… I really enjoy helping students become better researcher, even if that’s not what they end up doing, you can always look at the world through the lens of a scientist, you can always question the world.”

 

Dr. De Mutsert is excited that the Potomac Science Center will immediately be used to its full potential:

 

“A summer research experience in aquatic science ideally takes place in an off-campus research facility right on the water. I am really excited we are able to offer that. We have an interdisciplinary team of scientists including geologists, chemists, ecologists, and science communication experts together in the same building that are involved in this project, and are mentoring the students. We can be on the water when we want to, and plan to be on a boat with the students at least once a week.”

 

Both agree that this summer experience will prepare students for a future as a scientist, as it will strengthen their communication skills in a way class labs are not able to. Scientists are always writing proposals, grants, and preparing lectures. This summer research experience will give them the skills and confidence to do these effectively.

What is the future of this program?

This pilot program will hopefully open the door for further research experience for undergraduates. While the 2017 summer program is currently only open to George Mason students, PEREC hopes to open up it up to undergraduates nation wide.

If this initial program is successful, it may open the door for funding from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/). This will allow PEREC to accept undergraduates from all over the country for their research program. As the Potomac Science Center is the only center located on a Freshwater Tidal river, it would be a unique, and invaluable opportunity for any young scientist.

Interested students can apply here.