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Students study air pollution, respiration

By Kathy Chaffin kchaffin@salisburypost.com Knox Middle School sixth graders became concerned about the growing problem of air pollution last week after doing their own research at Horizons Unlimited. “It became real to them,” said Lisa Wear, director at Horizons Unlimited, which provides special programs and workshops for teachers, community groups, special populations and higher education. The carbon dioxide gases creating a lot of the air quality problems are not visible, but students became very aware of them after using sensors to measure the levels in the classroom. “They came to realize that when you have too many animals or too many people as opposed to plants that there is a dramatic increase in the carbon dioxide levels,” she said. LabQuest handheld computers combined with bio-chambers, dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide sensors allowed students to collect real-time data in the Horizons Unlimited laboratory. Wear said the technology was made possible through a grant from the Robertson Foundation. Toward the end of their experiments, students were trying to create a balanced environment with the ideal percentage of oxygen and carbon dioxide. “What they found is when they put an organism in there that the carbon dioxide levels started increasing …,” she said. “Many of them figured out that maybe if they put a plant in with the animal it would create that balance again. “What they found is that they couldn’t get enough plants in there to sustain the animal. Then they began to question how many plants, how many trees or how many plant populations it would take to sustain a person.” Wear said students also tested human respiration by blowing into the bio-chamber and measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in one person’s breath. “They were really shocked at the amount of carbon dioxide they’re producing in one breath,” she said. Then when they began multiplying that by the number of times each person exhales by the number of people on the planet, Wear said “they began to realize the importance of large populations of plant life.” Anne Ellis, science specialist at Horizons Unlimited, assisted Wear in explaining the technology to students, who designed and directed their own research. As part of their visit, Knox students also attended the “Solar System Journey” program in the Margaret C. Woodson Planetarium. Sixth graders from other schools will also be given an opportunity to do the research. “All kindergarten through fifth grades come here from Rowan and Davie counties,” Wear said. “The middle school program is optional, but we are finding that students and teachers have a lot of interest in coming because of the opportunity to work with the technology.” Members of the Robertson Foundation’s Board of Directors were scheduled to visit Horizons Unlimited this morning to see how their funding is being used. “We’re going to let them use the new equipment and materials they have supported us with this year,” she said. Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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