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Students analyze air quality

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DHS students field questions about air quality research during a symposium held at the school. The program is a joint effort of the University of Colorado Boulder, Western Slope Conservation Center and the school.

NASA satellites can be equipped to measure air quality from space, but for localized results, CU Boulder has developed air quality monitors that quantify emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. The same equipment used by CU engineering students was made available to students in Delta and Paonia through a partnership between CU Boulder, the Western Colorado Conservation Center and the schools.

CU graduate and undergraduate students worked closely with teams of high school students to design projects that investigated local air quality issues. Students came up with their own research ideas, created a plan, collected samples using the air quality monitors and analyzed their own data. The results were presented to the public at an Air Quality InQuiry (AQ-IQ) Science Symposium.

Dr. Mike Hannigan, a mechanical engineering professor at CU Boulder, spoke at the symposium at Delta High School May 23. He talked about research conducted in Ghana using the same air quality monitors employed by the students at DHS. In Third World countries like Ghana, where cooking is traditionally done on a wood stove, air pollution is the fourth leading cause of death. Researchers attempted to improve indoor air quality by providing new stoves, but they found it difficult to get the Ghanians to actually use them. They resisted any change from traditional cooking methods.

In Delta, students measured VOCs in paint, motor oil, cleaning products and nail salons. Jesus Saldivar, Kolby Keller and Syni Lujan analyzed how lawn mowers and trimmers impact local air quality. Haylee Chamblin, Natalie Schamp, Rita Phelps and KK Komives compared VOCs in the recreation center swimming pool to the VOCs in the weight room.

The presentations were judged by CU grad students and local professionals, including Delta County environmental health director Ken Nordstrom and City of Delta engineer Ellen Michelson.

Grand prize went to Breanna Sprout, Katie King, Stephanie Ponce and Kelsey Cloward for a research project titled "Does the Age of the School Building Impact Air Quality?"

"Does the Price of Paint Impact the Quantity of VOCs?" earned a special prize for Josh Reeder, Sean Horn, Tyler Neil and Jacob Hanning.

Another special topic prize went to Ethan Bates, Carson Roithmayr, Olivia Santonastaso, Casandra Saenz and Jorian Pfifer for "Global Climate: The Effects of Agricultural Field Burning Emissions on Climate Change."

The winners have been invited to Boulder to visit the campus and tour the CU engineering center.

Ben Graves, a DHS science teacher, said the research projects provide students with an opportunity to connect the science they learn in class with their community, specifically as it relates to the health of their families and the health of our global climate.

"This partnership with CU provides both technology and authentic real world experience for our students that is unparalleled," Graves said. "It's super unique for a rural school like ours to be able to form connections with CU faculty and graduate students."

Since students are doing college-level work, they earn college science credits through the district's Advanced Placement program. Students also gain public speaking and presentation skills by presenting their projects and answering questions at the symposium.

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