STEM in Lakewood

Last month the Lochburn Middle School in Lakewood organized a Science Fair for their STEM night and some of us from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (Gail Pethe, Madeline Camp, Sarah Waldo and I) hosted an interactive booth at the event. It has been many years since I have been at a science fair, so it was a very nostalgic experience. However, the middle school students exceeded all my expectations of the projects we would see at the science fair. There were various interesting projects--from checking the surface tension of water to assessing which liquid fastest dissolves  bath bombs (yes, mountain dew was one of the liquids)! My favorite was an experiment to compare different materials which could be used in space-crafts and their damage when entering the atmosphere. Wow, at a middle school science fair!

We also demonstrated an experiment to explain atmospheric inversion, a phenomenon in which a layer of the atmosphere where air temperature increases with height. Usually, as the layer moves up, the temperature reduces and warmer air moves up because of its buoyancy. This movement leads to mixing of the atmosphere, which is great for diluting emissions. However, when there is a cold air front below warm air, the hot air is not able to mix with the cold air as its lighter, hence, capping the mixing layer and causing higher concentrations at breathing level. This phenomenon usually occurs in cold conditions when the surface is colder, like during winter nights. Hence, we usually observe higher pollution concentrations in winters, especially at night.



During the demonstration, we had the opportunity to interact with a lot of middle school students and their parents who all had a good understanding of air pollution, wildfire  smoke was a hot topic among participants. As the Pacific Northwest witnessed wildfire events for two consecutive summers in 2017 and 2018, students seemed to be well aware of air pollution issues. Although most of the people correlate air pollution only with emissions, understanding how meteorology plays a key role in dispersion of those emissions is essential. The students had a good understanding of the local sources of pollution and seemed interested in learning how to reduce emissions.

Lakewood is one of the Agency’s focus communities and this was an outstanding opportunity to interact with Lakewood-area youth. The Agency has been working in the Lakewood area to increase awareness through various outreach events and to include their residents in the conversations about air pollution. Other than increasing awareness, the aim is to understand their perspective and their community concerns, and to find ways we can work with  community members to obtain cleaner air for all through our equity work. Interacting with the youth who are enthusiastic about the environment and eager to learn how to bring about change is always a very inspiring and satisfying experience. We are hopeful to have more outreach opportunities like this in Lakewood.

By Isha Khanna, Monitoring Specialist, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency