The science of everything

By Mike Warren

MARSHFIELD – A unique science class allows students at Marshfield High School to analyze the world around them.

Students in Amy Fassler’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science class had the opportunity to present their most recent findings in an after-school “poster session” on December 15 for fellow teachers and MHS students.

“The project-based learning model has really allowed students to delve into a subject that interests them,” said Fassler. “The students really enjoyed listening to other students talk about their project and ask them questions. The students think that the projects give them a good opportunity to connect a lot of different subjects in their study of environmental science.

At least one of those subjects asked junior Monet Veers to examine the invasive giant hogweed she found right next to the central farm field of a Wisconsin relative.

Carly Winder and Richard Gui watch as their classmates Will Jepsen and Henry Johnson present the results of their AP Environmental Science class project “How does the area of ​​a habitat influence species diversity?” December 15 at Marshfield High School.

“We have what we think is probably giant hogweed just down the road from my house. We counted a few hundred plants, ”she said.

According to the poster that Veers prepared for his presentation to the class, “The land adjacent to the potentially infested area is being used for agriculture. Since the presence of giant hogweed decreases the overall health of the soil, identification and control will be crucial for the region’s farmers and their crops.

Veers said giant hogweed is not a picnic for humans either.

“The sap of the giant hogweed will get on your skin, and you will be fine until you get out in the sun. The sun hits the sap and that can give you third degree burns, ”she added.

The United States has now classified the invasive plant as a noxious weed.

Fassler’s “science experiment” led other students to study the environment just beyond their classroom walls.

In a project called ‘War on Marine Life’, juniors Sophia Soskos and Julia Kumm “tested the levels of phosphate and nitrate in the wetland pond behind our Marshfield High School and Braem Park Creek”. according to Soskos.

“We also tested the dissolved oxygen levels,” Kumm added. “We are finding that when there are more nutrients, like phosphates and nitrates, in the water, there will be less dissolved oxygen, and this is due to eutrophication, which is an excess of nutrients in the water. the water. This causes algae blooms. When algae die off, bacteria consume dissolved oxygen and kill animals and marine life in the water system.

Soskos and Kumm were able to correlate what they found locally with an excessive runoff of nitrates and phosphates in the Gulf of Mexico, causing “dead zones” with a lack of dissolved oxygen, which now has a direct economic impact. on a decline in seafood production and tourism, not to mention an explosion of harmful toxins from algae blooms that pose a risk to human health.

The second year project Carly Winder asked the question “What kills bees?” “

“A combination of Varroa mites, fungicide and habitat loss,” Winder said as he explained his project and poster to a group of parents and teachers. Winder has studied the decline in the honey bee population, both nationally and internationally, and possible ways to reverse the trend.

Another group of students broached the idea of ​​tracing ivory to prevent poaching of African elephants.

“Our experiment was based on a previous experiment in which they had taken ivory samples and performed DNA analyzes to locate higher than normal elephant poaching rates,” said Ruhi Shah. “From there, they were able to find solutions to potentially limit the rate of increase. “

Shah added that the group’s main question for the experiment was how tracking the origin of ivory in Africa could prevent future elephant poaching.

“The main identifiable variable for differentiating ivory is called short tandem repeats,” according to a member of the Sydney Newmier group. “When we looked at the DNA, we separated them into different DNA fragments to determine where the ivory came from. So those short tandem repeats are non-coding DNA segments, and so it is. that they determine the difference between elephant species and their origin.

Group third member Ava Sainterme added: “Our overall goal was to use this DNA to compare these fragments to those in the existing database. We used this to track the elephant population and what country they came from, to determine where the highest poaching rates were. “

The Henry Johnson and Will Jepsen duo examined how habitat area influences species diversity.

“As humans use more land, the amount of resources available to animals decreases,” according to their project poster. “Our results may help conservationists plan and create sufficiently large habitat islands.”

“They’ve all done two projects so far this year,” says Fassler, “and they’ll probably complete six in total.

“As an instructor, it was great for me to work with students to ask good science questions, design an experiment, and help them analyze their data. “


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