AP® Environmental Science Utilizes Local Ecosystem for Project

Environmental Science Honors faculty member Graham Hegeman recently made the classroom an outside one, taking his students across the street to local Trout Brook for an interactive, hands-on, deep dive into science. Their goal? To test the amount of nitrogen in the water, commonly referred to as water quality. Students used API water quality test kits to measure ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, and pH in the brook and in the outflow pipes that drain water off of the road. Hegeman explained in agricultural areas particularly, nitrogen pollution of brooks is a major issue causing waterways to gum up with algae. “Excess fertilizer usage is normally the trouble in these situations,” said Hegeman, “but we wanted to see if the wastewater pipes entering the brook were adding dissolved nitrogen to the brook ecosystem.”

Students shared their findings and decided whether increased nitrogen flowing off of lawns/streets is a problem at Trout Brook. The experiment connects to the larger unit they are working on which focuses on how chemicals cycle through ecosystems.

 “I wanted to make sure that the students could apply their learning directly to a system that was relatively familiar. The nitrogen cycle can feel a bit esoteric, but rooting it in the ecosystem literally next door can help make it feel more relevant,” Hegeman said. His students will be returning to Trout Brook in the spring to revisit the ecosystem and see if there have been any substantial changes.
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