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Go Green sparks passion for faculty, students

By : Katie Ellis

Just how does one catch the interest of rising eighth-graders when it comes to science, math and engineering? Try asking a “question of the day” that they can relate to — like “What would it cost to add one nanometer of gold to the outside of an iPod Touch?

That was just one question tossed out to the 51 students participating in the two-week Go Green Institute on campus. The response was immediate as students began estimating the dimensions of the iPod, learning how many gold atoms are in one nanometer, discovering how many atoms are in a gram and working on their calculations. The answer — which came at the end of the day — to cover one iPod Touch with one nanometer of gold would cost about a dime. What eighth-grader wouldn’t be interested in that?

In its second year, Go Green is a fun, safe way for students to explore science, according to Wayne Jones, professor and chair of chemistry and Go Green director. In addition to hands-on activities and presentations, students make field trips and complete a final project. All of the activities deal with a sustainable living environment, with an eye on preparing them for advanced science concepts in high school and increasing the pipeline of students interested in majoring in science and engineering in college as well as in pursuing careers in those areas.

The program’s final project allows small groups of students to work with a Go Green mentor to solve a problem. They choose from one of eight general topics such as recycling favorite technology, home power, family consumption or paper vs. plastic.

“There’s very little duplication in these final projects because students have the flexibility to define their own question and design their own experiments to solve their problem,” Jones said. “Developing the question was one of their first challenges.”

Students will present their problems and solutions during an open session at 1:30 p.m. Friday, July 17, in LH-14.

Kelly Jo Riker, who teaches math and science to sixth-graders in the Johnson City School District, is part of the Go Green team for the second year and said the program exceeds her expectations.

“I’m in love with the program and the kids are amazing,” she said. Plus, it has made her a better teacher. “I even started a carbon-footprint in my classes with a lot of it based on the Friday program. I’m teaching sixth-graders how they impact the environment, and it’s improved my science program.”

Students are split into three groups for Go Green, rotating through chemistry, biology and engineering/math sessions that all, ultimately, bring them back to learning about and solving issues of sustainability.

Susannah Gal, professor of biological sciences, coordinates the biology sessions.

“Biology covers plants, bacteria and enzymes and we deal with all three areas,” she said. “It’s an overview.”  For instance, students learn about enzymes and how they can be helpful in breaking down toxic waste. “The goal of one project is to give the students a feeling for enzymes, which are the workhorses of the cell,” she said. “The byproduct of some chemical reactions is hydrogen peroxide,” said Gal, “and in huge quantities it’s a toxic waste. We’re using the enzyme catalase to break it down.”

Students also learned about bacterial colonies, even looking at them glow. Troy Steele, a Windsor student, took a picture of his glowing bacterial colony with his cell phone. “It’s awesome,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of different stuff and yesterday looked at e coli and did testing. This is a great experience.”

In chemistry, students analyzed bottled vs. tap water for hardness, among other projects. Dan Brennan, a lecturer in chemistry, said results were in parts per million. “We’re looking at very small amounts and their environmental impact,” he said. “As chemists, we can analyze for these very small things so we’re realizing the impact of very small amounts of things on health and the general ecology.”

Engineers can solve environmental dilemmas as well, and students in the engineering sessions investigated electrical phenomena and power, including solar energy, said Roy McGrann, associate professor of mechanical engineering. “We’ve looked at alternate methods of energy production as shown through light and speaker circuits,” he said. One activity had students rewire a hand-crank flashlight to test its circuits. “The main thing in this activity is to get them to actively touch and make circuits.”

Go Green participants were nominated by their teachers and selected for the program based on their aptitude for science and math. Representing 15 school districts in Broome and Tioga counties, they might have been nervous at first, but that soon passed.

Morgan Hill, from Whitney Point, liked the atmosphere and her new friends. “It’s more laid back here,” she said, “and I’ve learned a lot that I never knew.”

Lexi Lovric from Binghamton also liked the opportunity the program provided her. “I never had the chance to do these things before,” she said.

Just as students learned about the environmental impact they have as individuals, so the program had an impact on them.

“I’ll let it take me where it wants to go,” said Meghann Kilgallon, from Windsor. “Just trying a little bit of everything helps.”


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Last Updated: 10/14/08