A group of four Bronxville High School students – seniors Evelyn Kluemper, Ben von Mehren and Joe Seminara, and junior Jack Palermo – have built a stationary probe that tests the water quality of the Bronx River. Having submerged the probe in the river on June 4, they will collect data over the next several weeks on the levels of pH, salinity, dissolved oxygen and oxidation reduction potential, which all indicate if the environment is suitable for organisms to survive.
“The optimal pH level of a river is about 7.4, since high acidity will stress organisms and weaken their immune systems,” said Seminara, who has been conducting extensive research on the Bronx River in Justine McClellan’s science class since the beginning of the school year. “Oxidation reduction potential measures the water’s capability of oxidizing and reducing other substances. Ideally, water quality should be oxidizing.”
The four students used various sizes of PVC piping and a net to build the housing component of the probe. The constituent that holds the electrical work is held in a large PVC pipe, which can be removed to access a memory card that holds the data. Physics teacher Benjamin Cornish, who has served as an expert in computer programming and engineering, mentored the students throughout the process and provided guidance on all aspects of the probe, such as its design and wiring.
“We are lucky to be in a school system where an idea can become a reality with relative ease, and my peers and I are able to take part in a unique and immersive learning experience,” Kluemper said. “My hope is that this probe will transform the Bronx River Research class and inspire high school students for years to come.”
McClellan said that even though most of her students will be graduating in June, the underclassmen will undertake the task of improving the efficiency of the probe to meet their research needs. In addition, the data her students have collected will help future Bronx River Research students analyze the water quality for years to come and focus on finding possible solutions.
“The modern field of ecology is swiftly merging with computer sciences and engineering with the deployment of probes that remain in the environment and can collect high frequency data, such as once per minute, and do so over many hours, or even days or weeks,” McClellan said. “This data can then be analyzed with software and statistics to detect fluctuations in water quality.”
Students, next year, will be able to use the design to acquire more abundant and higher quality data, allowing them to ask questions and test hypotheses with greater speed, according to McClellan. They can also share their findings with biology, chemistry, environmental science, computer science and statistics students for further analysis.
“Throughout my academic career at the Bronxville School, this was a true final test of my knowledge before entering the real world,” Seminara added. “Without my teachers, I would not have the awareness of problems and issues people face every day to innovate solutions to problems like the Bronx River. I hope future students feel the same way and can use their knowledge to improve what we have put in place.”
The research on the Bronx River originally began as an independent study with just two students from Bronxville High School. Now in its fourth year, the district has incorporated the research into the K-12 curriculum through a variety of classes and disciplines. The Bronxville School Foundation has generously supported the program since its inception by providing funding for the students’ research work.