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Airdate: Sep 07, 2009
Scientist: Adina Paytan

KSC Claire - Reagents

KSC Claire - Reagents
Our Kids' Science Challenge water winner learns how to test for nutrient contaminants in water.

music; ambience mixing reagents

AP: "It's like cooking. You have your cookbook, you follow the instructions very, very carefully, because you don't want your souffle to flow all over your oven."

Well, you may not want to eat a souffle, or anything else that comes out of a scientific laboratory, but when mixing chemicals to run testsjust like in French cookingfollowing a careful set of instructions is essential to the accuracy of those tests. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Oceanographer Adina Paytan is in the lab to assist Claire Dworsky, a winner of the Kids' Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders. To test water samples which Claire collected from soccer fields, reagents are used. Adina Paytan explains.

CD: "What's a reagent?"
AP: "A reagent is a chemical that we add to our sample which reacts, it combines with the sample and tells us what's happening with the sample. Like in our case, our chemical that we're adding attaches to the nutrients in the sample. And this interaction between the chemical and what's in our sample changes the color, and that's what we're measuring."

Nutrients like phosphates and nitrates can be found in fertilizer, which can run off from lawns, golf courses, and farms into nearby waterways, polluting them. Well, by comparing the color of a reagent reacting with an unknown water sample, with the color of a known sample reaction, scientists can calculate the quantities of nutrients in the unknown sample.

AP: "If we add more fertilizer to the grass, will we see more or less phosphorous or nitrogen?"
CD: "More."
AP: "More, exactly. And if they don't use fertilizer, like for the plastic turf?"
CD: "Less."
AP: "Less. That's our hypothesis. That's what we think we will see"

Pulse of the Planet's Kids' Science Challenge is made possible by the National Science Foundation.