Engineers for a day: STEM K-12 outreach teaches local students water purification

Outreach 1Children from a local elementary school were engineers for the day with the help of some students in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University. Katie McNeal, senior; Samantha Wilson, junior; and Bilal Abada, doctoral student, visited Southwood Valley Elementary School in College Station to lead an experiment for Leah Gibson’s fourth grade students.

The students work in the Aerosols and Water Treatment Lab, overseen by Dr. Shankar Chellam, professor in the department. They made the trip to demonstrate water treatment concepts to nearly 40 elementary students. The engineering students made a presentation about coagulation and filtration processes to purify drinking water and took the lead in assisting the children perform hands-on testing of alum coagulation and filtration of dirty pond water.

“It was a great experience to be able to teach the students about water treatment in a fun, hands-on way,” said McNeal. “I was so proud when the students told us everything that they had learned.”

Outreach 2The children used water bottles to shake up the mixture (i.e., coagulation and flocculation) and then let it settle (i.e., sedimentation). They then constructed a filter system out of two-liter soda bottles, coffee filters and rubber bands, and filled it with activated carbon, pebbles and sand. Finally they poured the coagulated water into the filter system and watched it come out through the other end as clear, clean water. They were able to compare the results with the control experiment where no chemicals were added and see how effective coagulation, sedimentation and filtration can be in cleaning water.

“I loved watching the kids’ faces as the water ran through the filter and came out much cleaner,” said Wilson. “My favorite part was getting to answer all the questions they had.”

The visit was sponsored through Chellam’s National Science Foundation grant, which covers the students’ time, materials, supplies and procedures. It covers outreach activities to local schools to encourage STEM career pursuits