Academics, Upper School

Chemistry Students Examine Impact of Water Pollution

Water quality and its profound impact on human health was the focus of an integrated Chemistry assignment for juniors, which combined the science of ions and compounds with the study of water pollution and environmental racism in the world.

“We want the students to see what they are doing is applicable, important, and not just a stand-alone topic,” says Chemistry teacher Olivia Heeter. “You can learn about water quality in just the context of ions. But what about everything else, the harm to humans and the environment, and the bigger picture?”

To practice the science behind water quality, students took two samples from different sources and conducted a water quality test to identify what contaminants resided in the water. Then students expanded to research a variety of subjects related to water quality, environmental racism, and social justice. These subjects included microplastics in alpine lakes and rivers, the lead contamination of the Flint Water Crisis, the history of pollution of the Duwamish River, among others. Students demonstrated what they learned by creating a video, podcast, news blog, or article.

Grace N. read articles about pollution in the Duwamish River, specifically one from the Delridge Neighbors Development Association about BIPOC representation in science. The article discussed how many of the environmental issues in the Delridge neighborhood, which is one of the most racially diverse in the city of Seattle, were being attended to by white environmentalists.

“As someone who is mixed race, hearing other people talk about lack of representation in both media and STEM fields is great to see,” says Grace. “People don’t talk about it much at all, but we need to acknowledge it is happening.”

Classmate Annika W. valued going beyond the standard labs and scientific studies of chemistry.

“A lot of times, people learn about science, work in science, teach science, and it is strictly focused on that scientific perspective without thinking of the broader implications,” says Annika. “It is a good lesson for us to combine our labs with Humanities-like research. Science can’t be single-focused without thinking about communities, social justice aspects, and everything else.”