COVID-19 Restrictions Present Students With New Research Opportunities
By Carla Morris
COVID-19 restrictions may have closed some doors for students planning to participate in GU’s 2020 Summer Research Experience, but they opened others.
Research team supervisor Scott Pattenaude, assistant professor of chemistry, reports that COVID restrictions prevented student researchers from gathering and testing regional well-water samples as planned, but they did not prevent students from analyzing data previously collected by their predecessors.
Thousands of Data Points
Inspired by the Flint (Michigan) water crisis, GU students began testing well water as a service to Greenville-area homeowners in 2017 under the advisement of Professor Darrell Iler. They initially examined levels of bacteria and a wide variety of potentially harmful elements.
Subsequent teams collaborated with county health departments to expand the service to homeowners throughout southern Illinois. Information they gathered gave this year’s team plenty of data to analyze.
“We have thousands of data points and are trying to understand environmental sources of contaminants found in the wells,” says Pattenaude.
Targeting Hotspots of Contaminants
Students use mapping software—part of a framework called Geographic Information System (GIS)—to visualize the data in different ways and better understand localized “hotspots” of contaminants in communities.
“Once we understand where environmental sources are located in our community, we plan to work with the EPA for remediation plans or to do further testing in specific areas to warn well owners of risks,” says Pattenaude. He hopes the environmental focus may qualify the project for Illinois-EPA funding.
By following up the first phase of data collection with a second phase of analysis, students broaden their skills. “Cycling between these two phases every couple of years will give students experience in both areas during their four years at Greenville University,” says Pattenaude.
More Than Science
In addition to honing their skills as scientists, student researchers involved in this project have gained experience
- collaborating with public agencies,
- promoting the testing through social media and local news outlets,
- conducting information sessions for homeowners,
- speaking about the project and presenting in public forums, and
- publishing a paper about their work in a peer-reviewed journal.
GU’s water-testing research is an Experience First Initiative at Greenville University. A grant from Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals has funded the salaries of recent student researchers, who, in turn, have earned designation as Mallinckrodt Scholars.