I had the privilege to be in a class (The Science and Management of Contaminated Sites) that explored the relationship between science and media during my last quarter at college. The class prepared graduating toxicologists and journalists for the important work of talking about science to the general public. With a dream team of a toxicologist, a writer, and me (the visual journalist), we created a documentary about activated carbon, an emerging sediment cleanup technology, and reported on a lab group studying the effectiveness of activated carbon under a variety of environmental conditions.
I spent a ton of time with the lab group documenting their progress and learning about the experiment they designed. Unfortunately not all environmental science can be done outside, so I had to make sure I could portray the lab environment in a variety of ways.
Bodie Cabiyo and Thomas Craig inspect control solutions of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) , toxic organic chemicals that are harmful to living organisms and stay in the environment for a long time. Their experiment consisted of 16 variations of environmental factors that include water hardness, a low pH of 6 and high of 8, and humic acid. They tested how these factors affected activated carbon’s ability to capture PCBs.
Craig retrieves sodium hydroxide (NaOH), which the team added to water to raise its pH level to 8. When they first began adjusting pH, the concentration of their NaOH solution was not strong enough. “We can’t get much more concentrated than this!” Craig said.
Shannon Daughtrey mixes solutions of varying water hardness, which is one of the environmental factors the team added to the sediment containing PCBs.
After initial samples of PCB toxicity are tested, Cabiyo mixes activated carbon into the sediment samples. They waited a few weeks until the samples were thoroughly mixed before measuring how each environmental factor affected the ability of activated carbon to reduce availability of PCBs in the sediment.
(From left) Thomas Craig, Bodie Cabiyo and Shannon Daughtrey sing in the lab while preparing environmental factors to test their effect on activated carbon’s ability to capture PCBs in sediment, the soil under lakes, rivers and oceans. Scientists have fun too!