Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Twelve Westminster College chemistry and biochemistry majors presented the results of a service-learning project at a meeting of the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition (SRWC) Nov. 14 at the Jennings Environmental Education Center.
The students are from an advanced laboratory class taught by Dr. Helen Boylan, Westminster associate professor of chemistry. They collaborated with the SRWC to test the efficacy of their passive treatment site at Erico Bridge in Venango Township. The passive treatment uses natural processes, such as limestone beds, settling ponds, and wetlands to improve the water quality of abandoned mine drainage at this location.
As part of the project, the students visited the site, collected water samples and performed field tests of pH, alkalinity, and iron content. Back in the lab, students used laboratory techniques to analyze for sulfates, hot acidity, and various metals, such as manganese and aluminum.
Students presented results of the field and lab tests at the SRWC meeting. The results confirmed that the passive treatment site is working well to reduce the acidity and metal content of the abandoned mine drainage.
"This collaboration is a win-win for both parties," Boylan said. "The SRWC receives lab-quality data about their passive treatment system at no cost to them, and Westminster students learn interesting environmental chemistry and apply the techniques that they have learned to help with a real-world problem."
Westminster student Lance Jubic said, "This advance lab project specifically demonstrated how chemical principles can be applied to moderate the impact of acid mine drainage on local streams. For instance, acid-base titrations are often carried out on a small-scale in the lab by students. It was interesting to observe how the same principles can be applied across a large region of land to neutralize acidified stream water."
Taken during the junior year, the advanced laboratory course features semi-independent laboratory projects that mirror work done by professional chemists in graduate school, industry and government laboratories. The course integrates methods and techniques normally taught as the laboratory experiences of various upper-level courses. This course is taken for two semesters and includes participation in a weekly seminar.
Contact Boylan at (724) 946-6293 or email for additional information.