Students Launch Floating Wetlands on Mason Pond

Students in Environmental Science & Policy Professor Changwoo Ahn's class design and launch the "Rain Project" a 1,700-plant floating wetland on Mason Pond. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Students in Environmental Science & Policy Professor Changwoo Ahn’s class design and launch the “Rain Project” a 1,700-plant floating wetland on Mason Pond. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

George Mason University students launched a 1,700-plant floating wetland on Mason Pond Tuesday afternoon. The yearlong project brings together art and science students and is designed to clean the water as well as to spur ecological awareness.

“I learned how to think scientifically by working on this project,” said Chris Rusinko, a senior art and visual technology major specializing in printmaking. “Having a class that bridges the art department and the science department is a personal experience in a lot of ways.”

Students prepare plants for use in a floating wetland on Mason Pond. Photo by Craig Bisacre.

Students prepare plants for use in a floating wetland on Mason Pond. Photo by Craig Bisacre.

Environmental professor Changwoo Ahn was inspired to create the wetlands, or “The Rain Project,” so students could make those kinds of connections. Mason graduate students will monitor Mason’s first floating wetlands for an ongoing research project. About 24 students were part of the two-semester class.

Wetlands help clean storm water that washes into retention ponds, rivers and lakes and also aid in controlling flooding, said Ahn, a professor in the College of Science’s Environmental Science and Policy Department, and founder and director of EcoScience+Art. Ahn said the goal of the project is to create sustainable stormwater management in the era of climate change. Floating wetlands are being used in North Carolina and other areas.

Sophomore Andy Sachs said he also learned how to appreciate artistic aesthetics by working on the project. He originally thought the structure should be rectangular to provide the most surface area. But with some help from fellow students, Sachs says he learned that science projects also need to be visually appealing when they’re in a public area. The floating wetlands are kidney-shaped.

Combining art and science is an easy fit, in particular for environmental projects.

“Art is inspired by nature,” Rusinko says.

Sachs plans to take what he learns from the Rain Project and apply it to his summer internship working on storm water maintenance.

“This summer I’ll be able to relate what I learned in this class to the professional world,” said Sachs, who grew up in Leesburg, Va.

Sachs said he originally wanted to be a marine ecologist, but the internship last summer changed his mind. He’s an integrated studies major with a concentration in ecological sustainability.

Students from environmental professor Changwoo Ahn's class launched a 1,700-plant floating wetland on Mason Pond Tuesday afternoon. The yearlong project brings together art and science students and is designed to clean the water as well as to spur ecological awareness. Photo by Craig Bisacre/

Students from environmental professor Changwoo Ahn’s class launched a 1,700-plant floating wetland on Mason Pond Tuesday afternoon. The yearlong project brings together art and science students and is designed to clean the water as well as to spur ecological awareness. Photo by Craig Bisacre.

“I probably learned more this semester than in a year and a half of classes combined,” Sachs says. “Hopefully we’ll get more classes like this. We were able to see a full project through to actual finish, instead of just theoretical.”

About 1,700 plants––including soft rush, upright sedge, duck potato, water-plantains, pickerel weed, and blue flag––were chosen for their water cleaning efficiency and their beauty.

The prospect of combining plants with art appealed to Rusinko, who grew up in Arlington, Va. He grows his own food at a local community garden, especially unusual varieties such as the Pusa Asita carrot, a dark purple carrot that originated in India.

The real benefit of Mason Pond’s wetlands will be sparking conversations about finding different ways to clean the environment.

“I think a lot of the value is the social value,” Rusinko said.

This project was supported by a 4-VA grant and in several ways by Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research.

See more photos of the launch here.

This article originally appeared on Mason News

Write to Michele McDonald at mmcdon15@gmu.edu

About the College of Science

George Mason University’s College of Science (COS) offers over 40 interdisciplinary degree and certificate programs in physical, life, mathematical, earth and space sciences, data, forensics and policy to over 3000 students each year. The college, a crucial part of the university’s goal to promote research of consequence, accounts for roughly 30% of the university’s research expenditure. The college’s broad regional presence, combined with strategic national and international connections, reinforces the college’s mission to provide world-class scientific leadership important to modern society. George Mason University, located just outside of Washington, DC, is Virginia’s largest public research university. For additional information, email cosnews@gmu.edu.