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Earth Day with Evergreen State College

If there’s one thing the state of Washington has plenty of, it’s water. Blessed by an abundance of rain, and laced with a network of lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds, the state is typically lush and green year-round.

But a steadily shrinking ozone layer, acid rain, and other environmental calamities are as much of a threat to the verdant Pacific Northwest as they are to the country’s drier climes. That’s why Dr. Dharshi Bopegedera and her colleagues in the Department of Chemistry at Evergreen State College will leverage Vernier tools to reach out to the community of Olympia, WA on Earth Day.

For the second year, Dr. Bopegedera and a team of Evergreen undergrads will host an event for Olympia’s K-12 students. To be staged at the Olympia Timberland Regional Library, the Earth Day celebration will include an in-depth analysis of the quality of many of the bodies of water in the area. Students will use Vernier sensors to test for unacceptable levels of acidity. Bopegedera and her team will then follow up with a discussion on acid rain, why some water bodies may become acidic, and what students can do about it.

“We’ll have samples from lakes, rivers, ponds, and from Puget Sound,” says Bopegedera. “Children from any local schools are welcome to participate. We’ll talk about the different levels of acidity in the water, and the reasons they might be different – such as the soil, the type of marine and plant life that surround the bodies of water, and so forth.

“Most of the water we drink is ground water, and obviously good water quality is something we take for granted in Washington,” Bopegedera adds. “We want the kids to appreciate that they can only take the quality of their water for granted if they help to protect it.”

Last year’s Earth Day event in Olympia drew over 70 students of all ages. This year, Bopegedera hopes even more will take part. The use of the Vernier instruments should be one of the day’s biggest draws, she believes.

“We want to engage all of the students, with activities that are appropriate for their age level,” Bopegedera says. “Using the Vernier pH Sensors, students can instantly see a variety of pH levels in the different water samples, which should be really interesting for them.”

The water quality testing is just one of several events being planned at the library for Earth Day. Bopegedera and her colleagues also will be setting up stations that support a plastic recycling activity, as well as discussions about the geological causes of earthquakes, how UV rays reach us, how to protect the ozone layer (and why wearing sunscreen is so important), and more.

“We feel this will be a nice way to reach out to the community,” says Bopegedera. “Using the Vernier products to test the water quality, and completing these other activities, we’ll have a unique opportunity to educate the K-12 students, our own students at the college, and Olympia’s parents and families.”

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