Pollution Project Teaches Edu. Students Scientific Method

By By U Wire

By U Wire

Heather DanforthThe Daily Universe Brigham Young University

PROVO?Brigham Young University students and professors are working on research that could change how the Environmental Protection Agency thinks about air pollution.

Students have been involved with a three-year project funded by the EPA to study air pollution and its effects on the human body.

“I think they’ve been able to see this research in action and learn how important it is to pay attention to detail and to be consistent in everything,” said Stan Schmidt, professor of teacher education. “It’s been a good example of the scientific method in action.”

The research, led by Delbert Eatough, a chemistry professor, is intended to determine whether a more stringent standard for particulate air pollution proposed by the EPA would be useful in improving human health.

“This is a very expensive standard to meet, but if we do have those expected health benefits, it’s very worth spending the money,” Eatough said.

If the research determines these standards will improve health, the EPA is likely to rethink its current standards for air quality, a decision that would affect a large number of people.

“I’ve been involved in atmospheric chemistry research for about three decades, and this is potentially the most significant work I’ve ever done,” Eatough said. “If there’s anything we’ve done that has a potential for national impact, it’s the research we’ve done through this program.”

The research is possible largely thanks to a partnership between BYU’s chemistry and biochemistry and teacher education departments.

BYU students majoring in secondary education participated in the project, touring the research sites and learning about the equipment used. They helped to collect and weigh samples and presented the research findings to fifth- and sixth-grade students in nearby schools.

In addition to the experience the students gained while working on the project, their presentations served to inform the public, one of the objectives of the EPA grant, Eatough said.

The experience of working on a research project like this will make them better secondary science teachers, Schmidt said.

“They’ll have this bit of experience, so they’ll be more confident as they talk to kids about the scientific method,” Schmidt said. “They’ll better understand what it can and can’t do, plus they’ll have confidence that the scientific method can be used to attack difficult and ongoing problems.”

Overall, the participants feel the project has been a worthwhile one.

“It’s been a lot of work,” said Russel Long, a graduate student from Orem. “But it’s been a good experience.”