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Ballona Wetlands Research Brings Classes to Life

Ballona Wetlands Research Brings Classes to Life

Ballona WetlandsFor three years, three students from Loyola Marymount University’s Seaver College of Science and Engineering have been monitoring the water in the Ballona Wetlands. The data will be used to assess the levels of organic pollutants in the wetland, and the hands-on research process brings students’ classes to life.

Through a three-year grant from Merck and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, undergraduate students spend ten weeks in the wetlands as part of an interdisciplinary summer research program. Faculty in the biology, chemistry, natural science, and civil engineering departments created the program to give students undergraduate research experience in biology and chemistry and to study wetland pollution and remedies.

One of several projects that students work on is “Measuring Organic Contaminants in Los Angeles’ Ballona Wetland and Creek.” For this project, Rachel Adams, assistant professor of civil engineering and environmental science, works closely with her students to teach them the process and then allows them to take the lead on their research.

“She really wants you to take ownership of your part of the project. Once she knows you’re headed in the right direction, you have the flexibility to do what you want and figure out problems on your own,” said Patrick Carter ’07, an environmental science graduate student who has been a part of the project since day one.

The research consists of submerging pieces of plastic, used as passive samplers, in the water. After two weeks they are brought back to campus for analysis. Students create and install the devices and make measurements using a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer. As they apply what they learn in their classes, the students also form partnerships with scientists from the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project who collaborate on related research projects.

According to Anh P. Nguyen, senior civil engineering student, pesticides are some of the most harmful chemicals that have been traced. She says this type of research is important, because if chemical levels exceed standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, fauna and flora could be harmed.

Because students are building on work from previous summers, everyone has a vested interest in the project and the opportunity to contribute. Patrick Stahl, junior civil engineering major, is the latest collaborator and is focusing on deciphering the spatial distribution of the chemicals on the collection devices and what that could mean to the results. He will be presenting his results at the Sigma Xi Student Research Conference in November 2008.

The Ballona Wetlands are under restoration. Students believe their research will play an important part in educating the public at large about the estuary. “The key thing is understanding the bigger picture and your role in doing your part to protect the environment,” said Nguyen.

To read more about this project, please click here. To learn more about other programs in the Seaver College of Science and Engineering, please visit http://cse.lmu.edu.