For [the love of] SCIENCE!

Pictured: Dick Holt WLSSD Environmental Stewardship Award winners Jordin Weisz & Morgan Smith

Western Lake Superior Sanitary District is a proud annual supporter of the North East Minnesota Regional Science Fair, held this year at the University of Minnesota Duluth on February 3, 2018. Nearly 150 young people gathered to celebrate their achievements in the practice of science- learning firsthand the methods employed to test, record, analyze and discuss their explorations of this big world.

We love this day. In addition to event support, WLSSD offers three special awards to selected student scientists. WLSSD staff spend the morning traveling from project to project, interviewing participants, examining their data and methods, and delighting in the presentations. These kids are excited and ready to share their work.

As the solid waste and wastewater authority for the region, we have a vested interest in encouraging scientific inquiry. While our “poop and trash” management mission may not be rocket science, we think protecting the health of our citizens and our natural environment is pretty dang important. It also isn’t easy- our understanding of pollutants and how to mitigate them is constantly changing; technologies advance at different rates than budgets; people create the wastes we treat and they behave in complex and contradictory ways. Staying on top of it all, and doing the very best job possible, demands many different skill sets.

In this business, we need thinkers and dreamers! And we found them:

We are proud to honor these recipients of the WLSSD Science Fair Awards ($50 prize):

Alexandra Risdal, Grade 8, Ordean East Middle School, Duluth for her work What is the Effect of Heat on the Growth of Japanese Knotweed? Alex’s project investigated whether rhizomes of the highly invasive species Japanese Knotweed could survive being baked in an oven at different temperatures and for different amounts of time; her research supported the idea that knotweed can proliferate under very harsh conditions. She suggested further research ideas and summarized the implications for residents battling Japanese Knotweed- home compost piles aren’t going to get hot enough for long enough to kill knotweed rhizomes, but in the future she’d like to try engineering a system for a home compost pile that could. Go get it, Alex. Her presentation was thoughtful and her research well-executed; knotweed management is an important consideration at our compost site, and we loved her approach to understanding the challenges.

Edward Toubinek, Grade 10, Hinckley Finlayson Public Schools for his work “Natural vs. Toxic Stain Removers.”  Inspired by efforts to clean his football pants, Edward sought to find a safe stain fighter that achieved good results. He compared and contrasted the stain-removing effects of a bleached-base cleaner and a homemade cleaner of peroxide, dish soap and vinegar. Edward set up a highly controlled experiment testing the cleaners on different stains. His takeaways? Clean your football pants with his homemade cleaner for best (and safest) results! We loved Edward’s experimental design, humor, and the strong evidence presented. Please Edward, do our laundry too.

And the 2018 recipients of the Dick Holt WLSSD Environmental Science Award, in recognition of their commitment to environmental stewardship and the role of research in improving and preserving the environment ($100 prize):

Morgan Smith & Jordin Weisz, Grade 12, Cloquet High School for their work “The usage of different pharmaceutical filtration systems on Ibuprofen contaminated Lake Superior water.” Morgan & Jordin had established in previous science fair work that ibuprofen negatively impacts Lumbriculus variegatus (a sediment worm) survival and reproduction rates. They were intrigued by reports of trace pharmaceuticals in waterways impacting wildlife, and they hypothesized that filters might be able to remove pharmaceuticals. The team prepared dilutions of ibuprofen, then filtered the dilutions using kaolinite clay filters and activated carbon filters they constructed in the lab with plastic bottles, cotton balls, mesh sieves and the filter material. Each filtered sample contained filtrate, sediment, and 10 worms. They found that the worms’ survival patterns increased with the use of the activated carbon filters vs the kaolinite clay or unfiltered. They applied their results to the wastewater treatment process, where pharmaceutical contaminants often pass through the system and end up in the receiving waters. Jordin and Morgan were confident in their material and we loved their creativity using the worms as proxies to detect post-filter contaminant levels, and were excited by the success of their activated carbon filter.  They embodied the spirit of the Dick Holt award with enthusiasm, understanding, and commitment to learning. If we were benthic worms, we’d definitely want these two on our side!

Congratulations to all participants at the North East Minnesota Regional Science Fair, and best of luck at the State competition.


By Sarah Lerohl, Environmental Program Coordinator