E(ek!) Coli Sampling for the Safety of Humans and the Environment
Guest blog post by Chelsea Silva, VISTA Member for the City Sustainability Department and the Friends of the Rio de Flag
Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a type of fecal coliform bacteria. Bacteria are single celled microorganisms that can either exist as independent organisms or depend on another organism to live. E. coli bacteria are found in the environment (soil and vegetation) and in the intestines and feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. That’s right, fecal = relating to feces = poop!
Most coliform bacteria are not harmful, but their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (e.g. pathogens) could be in the water system. Only particular strains of E. coli cause serious illness, and people usually contact these strains (especially strain 0157:H7) through consuming undercooked meats such as hamburger. Disease symptoms include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and sometimes jaundice, plus headache and fatigue.
Safeguarding against E. coli is part of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s (ADEQ) mission to protect and enhance public health and the environment. The ADEQ conducts routine E. coli sampling throughout the state in order to reduce the risk of illness from disease causing organisms associated with sewage or animal wastes.
On June 28th, ADEQ staff trained staff and volunteers with Natural Channel Designs, Inc. and the Friends of the Rio de Flag on E. coli sampling. Trainees learned how to properly collect a water sample, how to process the sample using a handy “Processing Guide”, and how to record the data once processing is complete. Sampling in Flagstaff and the surrounding areas will provide the ADEQ with the data needed to protect our drinking water supplies.
Below show the initial and the final stage of processing the E. coli. After the sample incubates for 12 hours, you look at the large and small squares on the sample and count the ones that fluoresce under a black light.You then use a Most Probable Number (MPN) table to calculate the MPN of E. coli in the sample (you count the # large squares fluorescing in you sample and find this number on the X axis and do the same with the number of small squares fluorescing and find it on the Y axis to calculate the MPN of bacteria in the sample). The picture here shows that the sample contains bacteria, but not at a concerning level.
The Friends of the Rio de Flag is excited to partner with ADEQ and Natural Channel Designs, Inc. to engage citizen scientists in E. coli sampling. In the coming months, the Friends of the Rio will create a sampling plan with ADEQ to best fit the needs of our watershed. Afterwards, the Friends of the Rio will recruit volunteers to collect water samples throughout town. This will give us a better idea of water quality in our community.
Thank you to Meghan and Jake with the ADEQ for training us on E. coli sampling, and another thank you to Natural Channel Designs, Inc. for hosting the E. coli sample training day.
From L to R: Chris Tressler, Civil Engineer and Geomorphologist, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Mark Wirtanen, Biologist and Engineering Technician, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Oren Thomas, Conservation Projects Manager, Prescott Creeks; Jake Fleishman, Civil Engineering In-Training, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Chelsea Silva, STEM VISTA Member for Friends of the Rio de Flag and the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Division; Meghan Smart, Hydrologist, ADEQ; and Jake Breedlove, Grant & Watershed Coordinator, ADEQ
Maria grew up in central North Carolina on the banks of the Eno River, where she developed a passion for being outside and protecting the environment. In 2015, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a degree in Environmental Anthropology, and has since traveled around the country working in environmental education. She worked as a Naturalist for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, where she taught ecology and led interpretive hiking tours in Aspen, Colorado, as an Environmental Educator for The Ecology School, where she taught science to groups of students in the outdoor classrooms of southern Maine, and as a Naturalist for Point Reyes Summer Camp, where she led outdoor activities and backpacking trips in the Point Reyes National Seashore. She is excited to move to Flagstaff, where she will be working as the Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Grand Canyon Trust.
The Flagstaff STEM Education VISTA project seeks to increase the academic performance of low-income youth in STEM fields and their interest in pursuing STEM careers.
We are recruiting for new STEM VISTAs for 2017-2018! Click here for more information!
NAU's Merriam Powell Center for Environmental Research Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity is hosting their 13th annual Bug Camp at Willow Bend this summer. The first camp was from June 19 to 23 and the next one is from July 17 to 21, but the camp already has a long waiting list. What makes Bug Camp so popular? Bugs of course! Plus some very cool camp counselors.
Campers learn about insect natural history, behavior, and biodiversity through a series of fun projects and activities. Campers collect insects, create their own insect collections, build their own bugs, and cook and eat insect cuisine. They also go out on a night adventure where they can lure moths, and other new insects in with lights.
Campers are from 6 - 10 years old and their are 7 counselors plus 2 junior counselors for 24 campers in teams with cool names like the Ladybug Ladies, Flying Tarantulas, and Lava Locusts. This year, they were able to offer 6 scholarships for students to attend the camp. Campers come from all over Arizona, plus Colorado, Nevada, and California!
Lindsie McCabe, a PhD candidate at NAU, has been leading the Bug Camp for the past four years. Her advisor, Neil Cobb, began the Camp 13 years ago and says it seems like yesterday. Neil came in for “Ask a Scientist" and tried to answer questions from the campers: "How many total hairs are there on all the flies in the world?" and "How many baby insects are being born right now?"
At the end of camp one of the campers ran up to Lindsie and hugged her legs and said
"I love this camp I never want to leave!".
Thank you to Neil Cobb and the Bug Camp counselors for photos, information, and quotes!
Kinney Construction Services (KCS) and Peak Engineering led a tour of the Fort Tuthill construction project for Gretchen Downey's 8th grade classes. KCS worked with one of the classes in the Middle School Institute of Technology and Engineering (MITe) at Sinagua Middle School through the Scientists in the Classroom program founded by Jillian Worssam for the entire 2016-2017 school year. (See previous blog post here.)
KCS management and employees attended Downey's class once each month and walked the engineering students through all the steps of a construction project in a logical progression through the year. Civil engineers Julie Leid and Michael Bechtel from Peak Engineering also presented at one class and assisted on the culminating field trip to Fort Tuthill.
This project entails extensive improvements to the four-acre Fort Tuthill fairgrounds with the goals of better showcasing the original historic buildings and reinvigorating the space to better suit events and performances on a year-round basis. The scope is based on a detailed Master Plan and includes repairing and replacing failing water and wastewater pipelines, adding trees and landscaping, and creating seating areas and more inviting pedestrian spaces.
KCS Marketing Specialist Katie Colombini made a quiz on the history of Fort Tuthill: See how well you do! Correct Answers are below the last photo. No Cheating!
1. Fort Tuthill is named after which of the following:
A. A permanent army post located in Arizona.
B. The Pima and Maricopa Indian tribes.
C. General Alexander M. Tuthill.
D. Teddy Roosevelt’s dog.
2. Which of the following statements regarding Fort Tuthill is false:
A. It was constructed in 1929.
B. It was considered one of the finest National Guard training facilities in the U.S.
C. It served as the annual field-training site for the 158th Infantry Regiment Arizona National Guard from 1929 to 1937, again in 1939, and for the last time in 1948.
D. It was once over run with really aggressive squirrels.
E. None of the above – all of the statements are true.
3. The 158th Infantry regiment traces its origin to:
A. The First Regiment of Arizona Volunteers organized in 1865.
B. The Pima and Maricopa Indian tribes
C. The First Arizona Infantry
D. Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders.
4. General Tuthill’s military career began when he:
A. Enlisted in a cavalry troop of the California National Guard.
B. Organized and commanded, as a Captain, the 2nd Cavalry Troop
C. Was promoted to Colonel commanding the 1st Arizona Infantry
D. First started fighting with his brother as a child
5. The distinctive shoulder patch of the 158th Regimental Combat Team depicting the Bushmaster snake coiled around a jungle machete evolved from:
A. The team’s jungle warfare training experience in Panama in 1941.
B. The captain’s weird obsession with snakes and machetes.
C. The 158th being selected as Honor Guard for President Woodrow Wilson during the Paris Peace Conference.
D. The Regimental Band was also designated as the President's Honor Band.
E. None of the above.
6. The 158th served five and one-half years on active duty and was:
A. Continuously in a combat zone longer then any National Guard unit in all U.S. wars.
B. The first Army unit to be trained in jungle warfare establishing the first Jungle Warfare School.
C. The first Army unit to be sent overseas after Peal Harbor.
D. The organization that traveled further in their 5 ½ years of active duty than any Army unit in any war.
E. All of the above.
7. From 1929 to 1937, again in 1939, and for the last time in 1948 the regiment trained at its permanent field-training site located at which of the following sites:
A. Fort Tuthill outside Flagstaff Arizona.
B. Fort Sill in Oklahoma
C. Camp Barkley in Texas
D. All of the above because the regiment did not have a permanent training site.
8. All of the following statements about General Tuthill are true EXCEPT:
A. In civilian life he was a distinguished and innovative surgeon credited with pioneering the use of foreign material in bone surgery.
B. In the early 1900’s, while chief surgeon for the Detroit Mining Company Hospital in Morenci Arizona, he used silver plates and screws crafted by an Indian silversmith to secure the bones of a badly fractured leg. He later used a similar silver plate to close a large opening in a patient’s skull. This is believed to be the first recorded use of metal plates in a surgical procedure.
C. He was a member of Arizona’s Constitutional Convention,
D. On his return from WW I service, he established a private medical practice in Phoenix.
E. He retired in 1952 at the age of 81.
F. He served as State superintendent of Public Health from 1921 to 1923,
G. The General’s decorations and awards included the 1st Arizona Medal of Honor ever awarded and the United States Medal for Merit awarded by President Harry S. Truman.
H. None of the above – all of the statements are true.
9. Did you know?? All of the following statements are true EXCEPT:
A. Fort Tuthill Museum attendance has grown by 750% from the 2005 opening to 2016.
B. In 1934 machine gun mounted ferry boats manned by soldiers of the 158th Infantry
patrolled the Colorado River in a dispute with California over water rights.
C. 100% of Fort Tuthill Military Museum's funding is from donations.
D. Fort Tuthill has been visited by every living U.S. President.
Answers: 1.c, 2.e, 3.a, 4.a, 5.a, 6.e, 7.a., 8.h, 9.d
Thank you KCS and Peak Engineering for your contributions to the Scientists in the Classroom program! Thank you to Science Foundation Arizona for funding the transportation for this field trip through the SFAZ+8: Building Capacity for STEM Pathways in Rural Arizona grant from the National Science Foundation.
Guest Blog Post by Karin Wadsack and Todd Traen, with an update from Jenna Samora
On Friday, April 28th, nearly 100 middle and high school students competed in the first Arizona KidWind Challenge wind turbine design competition. 20 teams of students came from Sinagua Middle School, Mount Elden Middle School, STAR School, Winslow High, Coconino High, and Northland Preparatory Academy. The teams brought a wind turbine they had designed and built ahead of time to test in a wind tunnel, determining whose turbine made the most electricity over a 30-second test period. The teams also competed based on their turbine design, technical presentation, technical design knowledge, and general wind energy knowledge. The teams each met with a group of judges from the wind industry, giving a presentation about their project and answering specific design and knowledge questions.
The teams also competed in “instant challenges,” building sail cars, windmills for weight lifting, and playing wind energy Jeopardy. Throughout the day, students got to interact with other students from different schools and grade levels, and explain their own projects to peers, teachers, coaches, and visiting guests.Turbines at the competition included vertical and horizontal axis turbines, systems with and without gears, and some turbines for which the students had wound their own generators.
Frequently heard: “This is AWESOME!” “Check out that design!” “I’m having SO MUCH fun!” “Next year we’re going to do _____!”
The Wind for Schools project staff of eight was supported by an additional eight amazing volunteers from the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals and the Climate Science and Solutions professional master’s program at NAU. The Expert Judges also volunteered their day to the event. The Boys & Girls Club of Flagstaff generously donated its facilities for the day.
Update from Jenna Samora on the MITe Team's trip to Nationals: The Mustang Gust Runners ended up taking 1st in the Vertical Axis Insta-Challenge, but did not score high on the original wind turbine design. After the first competition in Flagstaff, the students 3D-printed their own gears and created their own generator. However, they were unable to get the energy output that they hoped for, so they went back to using the KidWind generator. Even through their turbine was not the best design, the boys still learned a lot and had a great time!
Thank you to our dedicated judges!
Ross Taylor, Wind Subject Matter Expert
Ken Kotalik, Primus Wind Power
Jim Corning, Prometheus Renewables
Daniel Snyder, Westwind Solar Inc
Darrin Russell, Wind Subject Matter Expert
Mira is a Flagstaff native who has recently moved back after being away for 14 years. She says she is happy to be back and to live and work in the community that she grew up in. Through her life experiences she has become passionate about living a zero waste lifestyle, playing in rivers, exploring canyons, dancing, practicing permaculture, getting her hands into soil, traveling anywhere often, reading anything and enjoying sunshine.
She is currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the Flagstaff STEM Education VISTA project by working with NAU's First Year Seminar Action Learning Teams. She works alongside NAU freshmen, professors, and community organizations to foster connections between NAU and the community through social justice oriented projects. She is excited to be a part of building these community connections and projects this year.
The dozen high school students in the iCREATE CTE Bioscience class toured two very different labs at NAU on Monday, April 24th. First, they ventured to the Geochronology Lab in the Science Lab Facility building where Lab Manager Katherine Whitacre described the process of amino acid racemization and how it is used to date small specimens including single microorganisms or bits of mollusk shells, egg shells, etc. Northern Arizona University has one of the few amino acid geochronology labs in the United States and has analyzed samples from all over the world for almost 20 years under the leadership of Lab Director and Regents Professor Darrell Kaufman. Below, graduate student Ethan Yackulic showed one of his sediment cores from Crater Lake in Colorado.
The lab has a large walk-in refrigerator with lake cores from all over the world, collected by NAU researchers and graduate students. The cores are kept cold so unwanted microorganisms don't grown on the surfaces. Ethan uses a Specim hyperspectral single core scanner designed for studying lake sediment core samples. By changing the range of wavelengths, he can detect locations of specific minerals or organic compounds, to help pinpoint where to collect his samples.
In the photos above: Katherine is dissolving mollusk shells with hydrochloric acid, an iCREATE student looks at shells under the microscope, and graduate student Kara Gibson uses a particle size analyzer on soil samples for her dissertation research.
Many of the research results from this lab focus on understanding paleoclimate change, which may then inform our understandings of, and models for, present climate change. You can learn more about this research here.
The next tour was to Nathan Nieto's lab in the Wettaw Biochemistry Building. Dr. Nieto has studied numerous animals in the past, but these days his lab is overwhelmed with ticks being mailed to him from all over the country. On an average day, the graduate students and undergraduate researchers in his lab will identify, grind, extract DNA and run real time PCR on 200-400 samples to determine whether the tick is host to pathogens such as Lyme disease and tick-borne relapsing fever. One week in May of 2016 he received over 2,000 ticks in the mail and it looks like he may exceed that this May. The tick study will identify what regions of the country have which species of ticks and what diseases they are carrying. This project will create a "heat map" of tick-borne diseases that can then be used by doctors and epidemiologists.
Photos above: Nate looks over where some of the many ticks are being mailed from, just a few of the mailboxes of ticks in his lab, and undergraduate Shienna Braga who is identifying the species of ticks at the microscope.
Photos above: Nate shows an iCREATE student the number of eggs one female tick laid, and graduate student Tanner Porter leads the lab tour for the students, including the refrigerator with thousands of samples from numerous animals including coyote tongues (possible reservoir for Rocky Mt. Spotted Fever), mice, squirrels, bats and more!
Nate's lab website explains what keeps him busy: "Our research focuses on the ecological maintenance and evolution of infectious diseases in wild animals and how this translates into transmission of disease to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife. We use a mixture of microbiology, molecular biology, phylogenetics and population ecology to investigate empirical infectious disease dynamics in wild animal populations.
Thank you Katherine, Nate, and generous students for sharing your time and knowledge with the iCREATE bioscience class!
Guest Blog Post by Rose Houk
It’s pretty easy to just flush the toilet and forget where our human waste goes. For most of us, it’s “out of sight, out of mind.”
But on a Saturday in April, nearly 50 interested residents toured Flagstaff’s Rio de Flag Water Reclamation plant to look a little deeper into where our wastewater goes once it leaves our homes and businesses.
It turns out the behind-the-scenes story is really interesting.
The Rio de Flag Water Reclamation Plant is a clean, attractive building standing just beyond Sam’s Club by a trail along the Rio. Inside are bright offices, maps on the walls, and a friendly city employee, Jim Huchel, who greeted us and led the tour.
Once we were all signed in, Jim gave us a firsthand look at the reclamation process from beginning to end. The plant, built in 1993, receives wastewater from the west side of Flagstaff. It first comes into the “primary clarifier,” what looks like a big black spaceship that just touched down. We peered inside to see a thick, dark, watery substance just sitting there.
Unseen were the natural bacteria that were beginning to biologically alter the wastes. Some of the material in the chamber stays suspended, while other parts sink. The suspended solids are skimmed off and sent down to the city’s other water reclamation plant at Wildcat Hill.
In the next step, the liquid enters a secondary chamber where it’s further clarified. It then flows indoors where it’s treated with ultraviolet light for a third step of purification.
Jim poured the water into a wineglass, and it looked good enough to drink. In fact, it’s graded as Class A+, but under Arizona regulations reclaimed water can’t yet be used as potable, or drinking, water.
Residents had lots of questions: Is the reclaimed water okay to put on plants? Is it safe to drink? Using reclaimed water for drinking will take getting over the “yuck” factor, said Erin Young, the city’s water conservation manager. She noted that Arizona is devising regulations that might make that a possibility.
The Rio de Flag plant can treat up to four million gallons of wastewater each day. In summer, nearly all the reclaimed water is spoken for –to irrigate fields, parks, and golf courses, some residences, and for industrial uses. In winter, the city sells excess reclaimed water to the Arizona Snowbowl for snowmaking. A certain percentage also goes back into the Rio. According to the city, reclaimed water accounts for about 20 percent of Flagstaff’s total water use.
Next time you see those purple pipes and signs indicating reclaimed water, it will have a whole new meaning.
A Big STEM City Thank You to Rose Houk for this post! And to Jim Huchel and Erin Young of the City of Flagstaff for this engaging and educational tour!
The Neighborhood Sustainability Grant was created to inspire creative projects that enhance community sustainability efforts. The grant seeks to foster community partnerships that promote sustainable and healthy lifestyles through local food production and educate the greater community about issues regarding water, energy and transportation.
The Neighborhood Sustainability Grant is funded through the Environmental Management Fee fund. Annual funding for the grant is subject to availability and is determined according to Sustainability priority areas.
Complete applications must be submitted by the first business day of each quarter (January, April, July, October) in order to be considered during the next Sustainability Commission meeting (second Wednesday of the month).
For more information and to apply, go to: http://www.flagstaff.az.gov/Albertsgrant
Guest Blog Post contributed by Jake Burwell, STEM Capacity Development VISTA
The 5th grade teachers at Killip Elementary school designed a Problem-based Learning Unit that focused on the students reviewing FUSD's new Wellness Policy that restricts the food/drink items allowed in the classroom. This unit aligned standards for understanding "matter" while integrating real world relevance as the students learned some basic chemistry such as the three common states of matter, physical and chemical properties and changes. They learned what chemicals, including sugar, go into drinks and their final product was a recommendation to the FUSD governing board as to what additional drinks could be included in the policy as "acceptable."
Tracy Blahut, Katie Butterfield and Jillian Hernandez co-developed the unit, and STEM Coordinator Ted Komada helped find local experts to assist. On April 28th, Chemists Irina Barrow and Amy Sessions from W.L. Gore gave the students some basic background on matter and had the students do simple experiments on chemical and physical changes. Amy told the students that she struggled with chemistry in 10th grade, but persisted in her studies and now enjoys her work as a chemist at W.L. Gore! Students guessed from Irina's accent that she was born in Russia, and despite learning a complex career in a second language, is now a highly successful chemist at W.L. Gore.
After this introduction to chemistry, the students were given the following drinks to analyze: NOS, Rockstar, Monster, Sprite, Diet Coke, Coke, Capris Sun, Sunny D, and Propel water. They worked in teams to test their sugar content through a boiling process, taking notes on the results as they completed the experiment. The end results were shocking! With most of the drinks, a large amount of sludge remained after the water evaporated. Some drinks (i.e. energy drinks and Coke) contained over 14 g of solids out of an initial 100 g of liquid. They wrote up their results and created presentations for representatives from FUSD, with suggestions for the drinks that should, or should not, be included in the District's approved list, based on their sugar content.
A selected group of the 5th graders presented their findings to the Forest Highlands Foundation to demonstrate the relevant and educational value of this PBL unit. Thank you to the Forest Highlands Foundation for granting Killip Elementary the funds for the equipment for us to do this unit in the years to come!
Thank you to Irina Barrow and Amy Sessions for their great contributions to this unit!
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator