Chemistry Mountain Day
The first annual Chemistry Mountain Day, designed to bring chemistry into the context of the “real world” and to introduce or reacquaint students with the iconic Appalachian Trail that runs along the ridge behind campus, went off without a hitch on Thursday, April 13th. Sixty-five chemistry students and their teachers split up into several groups and spent most of a day collecting water samples on and near the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Sheffield . One group hiked from campus up the Elbow Trail to the AT and then to Guilder Pond, a second group hiked from Rt. 41 to Rt. 7 through the Sheffield Swamp on the Trail and the last group used vans to reach more scattered sampling spots around Sheffield. All three groups measured dissolved oxygen at the sampling sites along their routes, determined GPS coordinates of the sites, and collected samples that were more extensively analyzed in lab later in the week by the students who collected them.
The chemical data is being complied into a data base so that students will be able to see how the chemistry of the surface water on and near the AT changes as it travels from the slopes of Mt. Everett to the Housatonic River. Students will complete a project in which they examine a particular parameter and attempt to explain the changes that are reflected in the data. We will also be able to compare data from year to year to understand changes in water chemistry in the area over time. In addition, Amanda Morgan’s classes are examining the effectiveness of various methods used by hikers to remove bacteria from water, as any of the water sources along the trail might be used as drinking water sources by backpackers. Her classes will be testing the effectiveness of chlorine, iodine and various filtration methods in eliminating coliform bacteria from the samples.
Students were enthusiastic about the experience. Michelle Chang, who was in the group sampling throughout Sheffield, noted “ I think the fact that the water we collected moved from the mountains was the most interesting thing.” Jenalyn Rembish, who spent her day hiking up to Guilder Pond, added “ It would be a great contribution for research, especially if the results came from students (who) are actually studying chemistry.” And Jimmy McKee, also on the Guilder Pond hike, when asked what he would improve on for the day, suggested “ go further to Mt. Everett and leave earlier to have a full day experience.”
The Chemistry Mountain Day program was developed by chemistry teacher and senior master Amanda Morgan at the Trail to Every Classroom program, a series of workshops for teachers sponsored by the National Park Service. The goal of the TTEC programs is to introduce students of all ages to the National Scenic Trails, through academic, athletic and community service programs developed by teachers whose schools are located near one of the trails. Other Berkshire alumni of the TTEC program are English teacher Lissa McGovern, whose project connects poetry and the AT and science teachers Mike Dalton and Anita Loose-Brown, whose project introduces biology students to the variations in tree species on campus and along the Trail.
-- Anita Loose-Brown, Science Department Chair