UO takes ice research to Eugene middle school students

Ice in a fjord near a Greenland town

A bit of salty oceans and icebergs spilled into a Eugene middle school April 7 — no disaster warnings needed, though. Steering a ship of discovery were UO oceanographer Dave Sutherland and UO geophysicist Alan Rempel.

Some 350 young students in Eugene’s 4J School District put their hands on a variety of simple scientific experiments during an all-day STEMposium at the Arts & Technology Academy, 1650 W. 22nd Ave.

The annual event grew out of a collaboration between the academy and the UO’s program on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Careers through Outreach, Research and Education, or STEM CORE. Through a variety of grant-funded programs, STEM CORE supports teacher-scientist interactions to improve science teaching and develop project-based lessons.

Undergraduate and graduate students from the Sutherland and Rempel labs helped lead the day's activities. Also helping were two graduate students who are supported by a STEM CORE program.

“Outreach activities such as this provide opportunities for our scientists and science students to develop their communication skills,” said Bryan Rebar, associate director of STEM CORE. “This, in turn, serves our overall mission of supporting the STEM pipeline by helping interest young students in science.”
 
The day featured workshops and activities related to Sutherlands iceberg research and Rempels research on glacial sliding. The activities will help the academy in its efforts to develop an iceberg-related project for use in a curriculum that eventually can be shared with other schools, said Sutherland, whose participation is part of his National Science Foundation career award.

“The goal was to show the students’ science hands-on, so they can start to appreciate what makes the ocean unique — its saltiness and different densities — and introduce them to ice, both in iceberg form and glacier form,” Sutherland said. “Some of the sixth- and seventh-graders who participated will be keeping lab notebooks that they will then have next academic year when we will continue to talk about ice and icebergs during their regular classes.”

Rempel’s National Science Foundation-funded research was represented in an experiment designed by UO geology major Anthony Downey to introduce the factors underlying the sliding of glacial ice from land into the ocean. Downey, who participated in an outreach class led by Rebar, uses corn syrup to show how viscous flows, including glaciers, respond to changes in conditions in their beds.

“The research we are conducting is aimed at improving our understanding of the controls on sliding speed so that we can better predict the rate that glacial ice is delivered from the Earth’s major ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to the oceans, where it contributes to sea level rise,” Rempel said.

In addition to enhancing the science communications skills of UO faculty and students, projects such as the one April 7 helps researchers meet the outreach requirements of federal grants and land future support, Rebar said.

Three teachers at the school district’s Arts & Technology Academy are participants in a STEM CORE program known as Content-in-Context SuperLessons, led by Rebar.

“The program helps in the development of STEM units that meet the new vision of science and math standards,” Rebar said. “Although the projects these teachers have developed do not relate to icebergs or glaciers, their involvement contributes to the greater vision of and preparation for working with partners to create inspired, authentic investigations for students that span traditional disciplinary boundaries in much the same way that our researchers’ studies do.”

—By Jim Barlow, University Communications