Issue: October 2004
Scholars as Stewards

Student engineers from Maryland’s Perry Hall High School take on the Bay.

 

     High school students don’t usually have big bucks to spend on a class project-unless they win a $5,000 grant, like these Perry Hall High School seniors did. At the beginning of the last school year, 20 advanced-engineering students, under the supervision of teacher Mike McIntyre, received a $5,000 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant to create a solar-powered water quality monitor that, they hoped, would also raise people’s awareness of the Bay’s environmental plight. (InvenTeams grants support a noncompetitive, team-based approach to invention and innovation among high school students.)

     The students wanted to come up with an invention that would help in the Bay’s recovery and also catch the attention of their peers. “If high schoolers are interested in the Bay, maybe others will follow,” reasoned student Tom Huber.

McIntyre, who suggested that the students build a monitor, got the idea from the Maryland DNR’s Eyes on the Bay program, which has similar devices set up around the Bay, testing everything from algae blooms to pH levels. The monitor his students ultimately built consists of a small Styrofoam buoy held together in a framework of PVC piping, which holds a modified crab pot full of test probes that hang below the surface of the water. Solar panels mounted on top of the buoy power the probes for up to two weeks. The device measures water temperature, nitrates, dissolved oxygen, conductivity (measurements of harmful electrical currents) and phosphates. It dangles from an Inner Harbor dock at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, where museum officials say they may eventually put it on display.

     “Most students don’t get opportunities like this until they’re almost out of college,” says McIntyre, “so it’s really good for these kids to get this hands-on opportunity so early.” But even as the young inventors head off for college, McIntyre’s current crop of seniors will continue to collect and post the data online for students at Perry Hall elementary and middle schools to use in their own projects. Their new mission? To “promote learning, understanding and appreciation for the Chesapeake Bay.”

     To learn more about the project, visit the website www.phhsinventeams.com.