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Airdate: Jun 16, 2008
Scientist: Adina Paytan

Science Diary: Beach Sand - Testing

Science Diary: Beach Sand - Testing
Two resourceful middle school students use a household iron and a homemade incubator to conduct bacterial research.

music; ambience

"Well, in 6th grade we decided to do a science fair project together, and we wanted to do something on our environment."

Some science fair projects are cobbled together in the days preceding the event. Others follow the model of real scientific inquiry and take place over a longer period of time. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Rose and Ella are middle school students, and their ongoing science project (2 years and counting) investigates the presence of bacteria in beach sand and the effectiveness of sand as a natural filter. The girls have been working with Adina Paytan, an oceanographer at the University of California, in Santa Cruz, who's helping to guide them through their research process. At this stage, they're testing water collected from three beaches.

"This is when we take the solution of the water, and we put it into a jar, and then we put the agent in. [shaking sounds] If we were in a lab, we would have a sealer, but those are about $4000! And we can't have one of those for our science fair project. So we use an iron."

Heat from the iron seals water into individual plastic bubbles in what looks like a blister pack that you might find in pharmaceutical packaging. After sealing their water samples in this way, the girls place these trays into a homemade incubator.

"We'll put it into the incubator for 18-22 hours, and tomorrow we'll pull it out, and we'll count the number of big and little bubbles that are yellow. And that indicates total coliform bacteria."

Well, this research has led to a string of accolades for these young scientists at county and state science fair competitions.

Please visit our website, Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.