Categories
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!

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

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.

Categories
Blog OSCAR

Why are there Drugs in the Potomac River?

OSCAR student Heather Nortz talks about her 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.

Categories
Blog OSCAR

What Can a Fish’s Diet Tell Us?

OSCAR student Sammi Alexander talks about her 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.

Categories
Blog OSCAR

Water: A Fish’s Pharmacy

Written by: Tabitha King

Here you can see Lisa McAnulty and I weighing out sediment to begin the extraction stage of sample processing. We are and will be using an adaptation of a QuEChERS (Quick, Easy, Cheap, Effective, Rugged, Safe) method to process both our sediment and fish tissue samples.

What if I told you fish could potentially be ingesting caffeine, pain medicine, and other pharmaceuticals on a daily basis? You may be wondering how this is possible since fish do not regularly visit the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions. However, there is a growing concern amongst scientists and other stakeholders that the very medications we are taking (even common allergy relievers) are not being removed during wastewater treatment. Current regulations placed on wastewater treatment plants do not require the removal of such substances. To make matters worse, if a treatment plant was to take on the task of removing pharmaceuticals from their customers’ sewage, there are new compounds made on a daily basis. Each chemical would require a unique form of effective removal to ensure at least a majority is removed before treated water is discharged into local waterways. It is currently not known at what amounts of these medications are making their way into our local waterways and accumulating in aquatic organisms and sediment.

Categories
Blog Education OSCAR

Are Potomac River Fish Addicted to Drugs?

Written By: Heather Nortz

How many prescription or over the counter drugs are currently in your medicine cabinet? Did you know that your body doesn’t absorb 100% of the drugs you take? What do you do with your expired or unused drugs? Do you think wastewater treatment or drinking water plants remove pharmaceuticals from water before they release it into the environment or to your well or water tower?

Categories
Blog OSCAR

One Fish, Two Fish, Prozac in the Blue Fish

By: Lisa McAnulty

I once heard someone say that if you brought a glass down to the Potomac River and took a long swig of its water, you would have swallowed a small dose of antidepressants. While drinking Potomac River water is highly discouraged, there may be a hint of truth to this statement. Thousands of pharmaceuticals and personal care products are on the market, and many inevitably make their way into rivers and streams through wastewater discharge or other sources. While we might not necessarily be chugging river water on a daily basis, many organisms call the Potomac River home and can’t escape the barrage of these so-called emerging contaminants. However, “emerging contaminants” is a misleading term for pharmaceuticals and personal care products, which have been in our waters for many years. It’s only recently that scientists developed methods sensitive enough to precisely measure trace quantities of these pollutants.

Categories
Blog ecosystem modeling OSCAR

What are Local Fish Eating?

By: Sammie Alexander

As a member of the ecology team for the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center’s (PEREC) summer OSCAR team project, my research goal is to investigate the predator-prey dynamics between fish and macroinvertebrates in two freshwater tidal Potomac River tributaries, Gunston Cove and Hunting Creek. This means, I examine the stomach content of 15 fish species known to inhabit both embayments in order to construct a food web for each location.

Categories
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.