Students Find Water Quality Field and Lab Work Fulfilling

WaterQualityCrewThe students who take Hunter Carrick's classes and get involved in his research all have a few things in common, he believes. They care about environmental issues such as pollution, they enjoy hands-on activities such as water sampling and testing, and they don't mind getting their hands dirty.

"The students are interested in trying to determine the extent of problems such as stream contamination, and they want to be involved in field and lab work," says the assistant professor of aquatic ecology. "Several students have completed undergraduate degrees in my lab. It has been gratifying to see students go on to succeed in the field and take positions with regulatory agencies and nongovernmental agencies or further their education in graduate school."

A former lead scientist on the Environmental Protection Agency vessel Lake Guardian, which in recent years has been investigating oxygen-starved "dead zones" in Lake Erie thought to be caused by pollution, Carrick has involved his students in several pollution-gauging and detection efforts.

Besides continuing research in Lake Erie, they are working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to measure the unnatural growth of algae on three Montgomery County tributaries of the Schuylkill River. "We know that the levels of algae biomass and species composition can tell us if significant levels of contaminants are entering the streams," Carrick says. "We are working with the EPA and DEP to re-evaluate sewage-treatment discharges, and that may lead to new standards for cleaner plants down the road."

Undergraduate students are collecting water samples and analyzing them back in the lab under the watchful eye of Carrick. They are students who like working outdoors and making a difference.

---Penn State Science for Your Life, Fall 2006