CHM410-1410: Students get first-hand experience in fieldwork

September 1, 2022 by Dan Haves

The results of a field-based laboratory experience led by Professor Jesssica D’eon have been published this week in the Journal of Chemical Education. 

While fieldwork is an important part of both research and learning, it’s not often found in undergraduate chemistry education. In this cross-listed undergraduate and graduate course, CHM410-1410 Analytical Environmental Chemistry, D’eon takes 20-25 students to a hot spot of perfluoroalkyl acid (PFAA) contamination in Lake Niapenco, about an hour outside of Toronto.

At Lake Niapenco, a site impacted by runoff from firefighter training activities at the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, and at a nearby background site on 20 Mile Creek, students collect water, sediment, invertebrates, and fish. After extraction, students use liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry to quantify seven PFAAs, degradation products of the chemicals found in the aqueous film forming foams used to extinguish fuel fires. Students are then asked to communicate their findings with a focus on effective data visualizations. 

One of the goals of this course, which has included this field experiment since 2016, is for students to take a systems-thinking approach to their data analysis and report writing so that they can present a clear and comprehensive narrative for their readers. For many students, this will be a new challenge.

Four small sunfish collected from Lake Niapenco in fall 2017. Extraction and analysis of these fish provides students with an understanding of the impact of releasing bioaccumulative chemicals, such as the PFAAs, into an ecosystem.

“Lake Niapenco and the Welland River system were identified as a hotspot of PFAA contamination in 2012. Despite this discovery, there is no ongoing monitoring of the ecosystem as a whole and so our class has filled this gap.”, says D’eon, who is also the lead author of the paper.

Read the full article.