More than 70 San Diego-area high school students spent a Saturday demonstrating not only their discoveries about what particles float in the air we all breathe, but also how they can teach themselves science.
On April 18, UC San Diego’s Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE) held its inaugural conference to showcase the new Collaborative Learning through Environmental and Aerosol Research (CLEAR) program.
The students presented the results of their studies of particulate matter in their communities and were given the opportunity to test research instruments such as CLEAR-CAICE’s particulate counter to measure the aerosols that are present in the air in different parts of San Diego. Doug Collins, a CAICE researcher and managing director, was the keynote speaker.
“CLEAR-CAICE represents a fantastic opportunity for students to understand the scientific process from their own experience,” said Collins. “A number of students told me, ‘If I could only try this experiment over again, I would make it a lot better!’ which was refreshing and told us that we truly got through to them.”
CAICE is a UC San Diego research center that focuses on the chemical effects of airborne particles on our climate and environment. It is led by Kim Prather, an atmospheric chemistry professor who holds appointments in the UCSD Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Public outreach is a prominent component of the program’s mission. The CLEAR program is an effort by CAICE to engage high school students in environmental chemistry, build partnerships with local high schools and the public.
“It is important for high school students who are interested in research to be getting real-world research experience,” said Kayla Busby, education and outreach coordinator at CAICE.
Project topics ranged from a look at the air pollution in downtown San Diego versus Balboa Park; a test of the air quality in a high school classroom; and whether perfumes, air fresheners, and disinfectant sprays cause headaches.
“Science comes alive when it's all around us – when we can put numbers or indicators on things we experience every day like our air quality – and that's what the CLEAR-CAICE program is all about,” said Collins. “Hundreds of years ago, [it all] began by people attempting to make measurements of the universe around them; legendary figures like Galileo, Newton, and Lavoisier all came up with ways to put numbers to nature. The students involved in this program did exactly the same thing, and showed much the same curiosity and excitement as professional scientists do when they learn something new.”
– Ashlee Hanson is an intern at the Scripps Oceanography Communications Office