Hudson Valley K-12 students to explore water resources with Clarkson University project

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A grant from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors Foundation for Pilot Teaching Modules enabled the Beacon Institute for Rivers & Estuaries at Clarkson University to provide new enrichment opportunities for students in kindergarten through 12th year. Above, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Taeyoung Kim presents a module to high school students as part of Clarkson’s Horizons program.

A grant from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) Foundation for Pilot Teaching Modules enabled the Beacon Institute for Rivers & Estuaries at Clarkson University to provide new enrichment opportunities for students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

With experience piloting multiple educational modules in 2021, Beacon will offer new classroom programs, field trips, and summer programs to students in New York’s greater Hudson Valley, including the Beacon City School District and eight other districts.

The objective of the project was to develop modules providing K-12 students with the basic principles and engineering concepts behind conventional and novel water and wastewater treatment processes.

The modules were designed by co-principal investigators Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Taeyoung Kim and Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Yang Yang.

“I was inspired by my four-year-old daughter having fun with water experiments that she can explore using things that are easily accessible at home during the pandemic,” Kim says. “Professor Yang is a perfect collaborator who has so many things in common with me, such as research field, expertise in electrochemistry and, above all, raising a child of the same age.”

The two professors developed practical experiments for three grade levels – K-5, middle school and high school – to ask two scientific questions related to their research expertise.

The modules signed by Kim answered the question “Why can’t we use seawater in our daily lives?” and Yang’s modules replied, “How can we remove dirt from water?”

The learning objectives were for students to understand how degraded water sources affect daily water uses, apply engineering solutions to remove unwanted compounds, and analyze operating principles using the fundamentals of water chemistry.

Beacon education staff delivered one of the pilot modules to 100 sixth graders from South Middle School in Newburgh during a field trip to the Beacon Water Ecology Centre. The demonstration illustrated the low availability of fresh water resources compared to salt water on earth. The students created water filters and made an action plan to save water in their daily lives.

Kim has presented several modules to middle school students as part of Clarkson’s Horizons program. Students performed water and soap bubble dispensing experiments, made a simple water filtration system using coffee filters and granular activated carbon, and removed water hardness by pouring hard water in a coffee filter filled with ion exchange resin beads.

“These activities were designed to introduce several water quality standards – such as salinity, hardness and pH – and water treatment processes – such as filtration, adsorption and exchange of ions,” says Kim. “The most common misconception we identified was about the distribution of fresh water. The learning activity not only helped us solve this problem, but it also made the children aware of the limited fresh water resources of the planet.”

Yang’s module includes hands-on lab experience and course materials to demonstrate the principles of electron flow, redox chemistry, and electrocatalysis. “The science kits we designed visualized textbook jargon,” Yang says. “Beyond the lab content, we presented recent advances in energy storage and electrochemical water treatment.”

Aided by graduate students, Yang’s module was showcased at a North Country Children’s Museum summer camp, where K-5 students used the science kit to build fruit batteries, cell corrosion and water separation devices.

A pilot module was also presented to K-5 students by science staff from the North Country Children’s Museum in Potsdam and an undergraduate student from Clarkson. During the program, titled “The Wonders of Water,” students used a sieve to separate sand from steel balls, representing membrane-based processes like reverse osmosis. A second activity used a magnet to pull the steel balls out of the sand, representing an electromotive process using ion exchange membranes.

“The project demonstrates the power of collaboration between Clarkson faculty and our STEM Ed Outreach staff,” said Asher Pacht, director of environmental programs at the Clarkson Beacon Institute for Rivers & Estuaries. “Together, we can impact students of all ages with programs aimed at making complex science both understandable and inspiring.”

Pilot collaborators included Pacht and Clarkson Beacon Institute for Rivers & Estuaries Deputy Director of Environmental Programming Brigette Walsh; Melissa Richards, director of Clarkson’s Horizons program and assistant professor at the Institute for STEM Education; and North Country Children’s Museum staff member Dan Bellinger ’16, assisted by Clarkson chemical engineering major Carolyne Shultes ’23.


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