Upper Valley Students Share Results of Mercury Research at Dartmouth

Science students from Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., and Woodstock Union High School  in Woodstock, Vt., will come to Dartmouth on February 23 to share the results of their research on mercury in the watersheds of New Hampshire and Vermont. The students participated in the Twin State Mercury Project, part of a larger regional mercury project supported by Acadia Partners at the Schoodic Learning Center in Maine’s Acadia National Park and led by Sarah J. Nelson of the University of Maine (Orono). The regional project focuses on the collection and analysis of dragonfly nymphs, an indicator species for mercury in the environment.

Dragonfly nymphs, an indicator species for mercury in the environment, are the focus of research by local high school students involved in the Twin State Mercury Project. (photo by iStock)

In addition to a poster session documenting the students’ research, the event includes a keynote speech by Celia Chen, research associate professor of biology and a member of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program research team. The presentation, which is free and open to the public, takes place in the Top of the Hop at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center, beginning at 7 p.m.

“Twin State is a citizen-science collaboration between local high school teachers, researchers from Dartmouth College and Acadia Partners, and Dartmouth graduate students,” explains Nancy Serrell, director of outreach in Dartmouth’s Provost’s Office. “The project is a very successful community collaboration,” she observes, noting that “the teachers—Erica Ferland from Stevens High School and Jen Stainton from Woodstock High School—are the heroes of this story. ”

The Twin State project is supported by funding from Acadia Partners and the Byrne Foundation of Hanover with additional support from Dartmouth’s National Science Foundation STEM Fellows in K-12 Program (GK-12). The GK-12 program supports fellowships and training for graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and places graduate students in school classrooms for one academic year.

Ronald Kinser, a PhD candidate in biological sciences, is a GK-12 fellow associated with the Twin State Mercury Project. He reports that “the students of Stevens and Woodstock Union High Schools have participated in each stage of the scientific method in an effort to address an important environmental concern, mercury in our environment. The students have performed academic research, developed  scientific hypotheses, conducted field work to collect local biological samples, and analyzed data obtained from these samples.”

This academic year, Kinser has been working with 10th grade science students at Stevens High School and their teacher Erica Ferland. He and the students “have broken down the scientific method and discussed exactly what occurs in each phase of a scientific project.” Doing so, says Kinser, “helped to demystify not only what science is and how it is performed but also what a scientist is and how that can vary greatly from many of their common preconceived notions, which are often a major barrier in helping students gain an interest in and basic understanding of science.” Alongside the mercury project, Kinser has also helped Ferland and her students gain access to major scientific resources at Dartmouth. The group has taken a field trip to the College’s biological sciences department to work on high-tech microscopes, explored the Murdough Greenhouses, and visited several working laboratories.

Says Ferland: “The best part of this project has been the growth, rigor, and success we have experienced in our learning community. I am thankful I work at such a wonderful school that supports teachers to take the less-travelled path of discovery in the learning process because that is when students learn to unlock the doors of science and their own lives.”

Dartmouth’s Chen praises both the Twin State Mercury Project and the GK-12 program. “Mercury is a global pollutant and potent neurotoxin. Researching its presence around them gives high school students an idea of how science is conducted, and how it can be relevant to environmental issues around them.” For the graduate students involved, she continues, “it provides an opportunity to gain insight into how younger students learn science, how to communicate science to the general population, and how to mentor young people. And for the faculty, it is a great opportunity to communicate our scientific research, both the objectives and the results, to a broader audience.”

Dartmouth College Press Release

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