Dr. R. Christian Jones, Director, Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, Environmental Science and Policy, began a long-term “green to clean” partnership in 1984 by collaboratively developing a monitoring plan designed to document algae counts, monitor water quality, fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants in Gunston Cove, downstream from the Noman Cole wastewater treatment plant, which at that time had just implemented a new protocol that removed phosphorus, an essential nutrient for algae growth, from the purified water they returned to the river. This partnership has helped train and launch careers of dozens of students, and paved the way for additional community collaborations, culminating in the creation of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC), and the building of its home, Mason’s Potomac Science Center. For the past seven years, in partnership with Alexandria Renew Enterprises, Dr. Jones’ PEREC team has initiated a more multifaceted study to document water quality and aquatic ecosystem trends in Hunting Creek, downstream of the AlexRenew wastewater treatment plant. Long-term partnerships such as these, and others with Fairfax and Prince William Counties, has fostered mutually beneficial relationships with a multitude of local, state, and national agencies and organizations, while bettering the quality of life for the community.
Written by: Chau Pham
I am participating in the 2018 summer OSCAR program as a member of the chemistry team at the Potomac Science Center. My research goal is to quantify the concentrations of endocrine disruptive compounds (EDCs) and pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in Gunston Cove. By measuring the present of these chemicals in the watershed, we can further examine the effect of bioaccumulation and the water quality after treatment.
The chemistry team worked with water, zooplankton, filters, sediments, clams, submerged aquatic vegetation, and three species of fish, which were collected by the ecology team. Water samples were processed differently from other samples. Firstly, the collected water was filtered through 2 layers of glass microfiber filter GF/F and GF/D. Then, we used 2 different methods to perform solid phase extraction: HLB, to obtain EDCs, and AXCX to collect PPCPs. The QuEChERS method was used for other samples preparation. Finally, all of the samples were transferred in auto sampler vial in order to load into HPLC/MS/MS, which is a powerful and sensitive instrument to identify and
quantify chemical concentrations in nanograms. The chemistry team was divided into 2 groups to analyze data for EDCs and PPCPs. I along with 2 other members have been working with LabSolution software to analyze the data for EDCs drug schedule. We found different species of sunscreen agents, NSAID, as well as herbicides in samples from Gunston Cove watershed suggesting that wastewater effluent and storm water run-off contribute are sources for pollution and bioaccumulation.
Through summer OSCAR program, not only did I gain valuable skills, I also learned tremendous knowledge about current research at George Mason University. My mentors and the PEREC team have worked hard to arrange brown bag seminar every Friday where I can learn about interesting and exciting research, jobs, and projects on environmental sciences.
Written by: Alex Marchesani
I’ve always been fascinated with science from a very young age. Tearing through books on biology and trying to memorize as many facts as I could about various other natural phenomenon. As I progressed through my high school career, I found myself enamored with microbiology specifically. Discovering and learning all the various eccentricities and distinctive features of the different classes and species. I now find myself entering my second year here at Mason. I have taken several chemistry and biology courses thus far. Throughout my first two semesters, I began to feel something I had never felt before in regards to science. I felt bored. Not because classes were too easy (CERTAINLY not that). But somehow, the luster was fading. The endless facts and equations were becoming taxing, rather than energizing like years past. I began to fear: “Have I chosen wrong?” “I’ve never had passion for another subject, can I really change?” “What if science isn’t for me?”
I had two basic options for what to do over the summer, continue working at my local country club and wake up at 5:30AM every day to work the grounds of the golf course, or find an internship. Because you are reading this now, I think you can realize which choice I went with and why. As for my internship options, I went with science, the thing I was afraid I was losing passion for. I applied to several opportunities and sent my various cover letters and other requirements. As time passed, I began to think about abandoning everything and saving as much money as possible for the summer and work at the golf course. One day, I received an email inviting me down to a place I had never been before, the PEREC facility. The email stated that my potential mentors were impressed with my credentials and had invited me for an interview. Although I was still unsure what I wanted, I figured it would be good to explore all my options.
Upon getting to PEREC, I found myself taken aback and surprised. I had never visited a research center before, certainly not one as new and fresh and this. My curiosity piqued, I sat and waited for my interview and tour to begin. The tour consisted of informing me about the things we would be doing. Mainly, gathering data from sediment, water, and fish samples and processing them for analysis with a mass spectrometer. A mass spectrometer is an instrument which someone my age rarely gets the chance to work with. Afterwards, I sensed a slight shift in things. I have just recently come to realize what exactly it was. It was a fire inside me. Burning and raring to be a part of something I had never been before. The hunger to consume knowledge and the craving to understand how to make discoveries of my own had been reignited. I quickly accepted the offer to work at PEREC for the summer.
Since then, I have been able to peak behind the curtain so to speak. To see all the goings-on that culminates in publications and conventions and posters. What I observed was not quite what I had expected. The people here are not cold and calculating scientists, though they can be if the need arises, they are warm, jovial, and always willing to assist you. I am, to my knowledge, the youngest person working in my chemistry lab (I’m 19). Thus, I was quite anxious about working here with the least amount of previous experience, and the fact that I’m not a chemistry major like my colleagues (which I get teased for constantly). Despite a few awkward moments and lots of uncertainty in the beginning weeks, I have since developed friendships with my peers that I normally never would in this situation. I am a very introverted and reserved person, it takes a lot for me to engage others in conversation. However, because so much of the lab work was over my head, at least at first, it forced me to ask people for help, something I’m not very good at. In doing so, I started to feel a sense of “belongingness” that I have never felt towards a work environment before. I feel like part of a team of genuine friends here in the PEREC chemistry lab. The kinds of friend who will help each other with preparing samples of fish (which smelled awful) with no complaint, and then turn around and invite you to trivia night or to a barbecue for the weekend.
Not only do I feel comfortable at PEREC, I also am extremely proud of the work we do and the things we hope to accomplish. I suppose after about two pages, I should probably inform you all what it is we actually do here. My group, as part of a program run through the OSCAR office, is focusing on processing and analyzing fish samples for the purpose of validating the mathematical model we are using to construct a food web of the Potomac River. The other two parts of our project deal with water and sediment samples. The data from these samples will be input into our mathematical model (called Kabam believe it or not) and will deliver us with estimations about what levels of chemicals may be present in many organisms. The kinds of chemicals we are interested in are called micropollutants. Specifically, we are looking into pharmaceuticals and personal-care products (PPCP’s). Many of these compounds have been found in concentrations of just a few parts-per-million. While that may not sound like much, PPCP’s include things like estrogenic compounds and antibiotics. These sorts of chemicals can have major effects on ecosystems even in such small amounts. While the exact effects of many PPCP’s, as well as the sources where they originate, are not fully understood, our work here at PEREC is helping make steps towards forming more comprehensive knowledge about the Potomac and aquatic ecosystems overall.
My name is Brian Kim and I am a member of the OSCAR fish team at the Potomac Science Center (PSC). Over the course of this summer, I have been going out to Gunston Cove and Hunting Creek located within the Potomac River to collect fish species. My research focuses on assessing the diet items of the fish species and determining if there is a significant difference between the two locations as well as any differences in submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and non-aquatic submerged vegetation (NSAV) areas within each location. The most enjoyable part of this experience has been the process of the actual fish collection. There have been two separate trips for each location where we would use a series of seine nets, fyke nets and trawls to catch fish from as little as 10 mm to as large as 530 mm. The trawls were the most thrilling method because we usually caught the largest specimens during each trial. As each trawl was hauled onto the boat, there was a rush of excitement as to see which specimens we caught and how many. Once we had recorded all required data on each fish, the samples were taken back to the Potomac Science Center to begin the process of answering the question “What exactly has each fish species been eating?”
The majority of my time at the PSC has been spent dissecting the stomachs from the fish samples and opening them up to see what was inside. Each stomach from the fish species differed in some way both internally and externally. The most exciting stomach contents that I have found so far came from a Yellow Perch that had eaten five juvenile fish within the last day it was caught. I was able to identify the five juveniles as three White Perch and two Spottail Shiners. There have been various different prey items in the stomachs such as amphipods, chironomids, gastropods and aquatic insects that must now be analyzed. Using the stomach contents from each fish species, I will be able to determine which prey items are the most impactful as well as how location, habitat and fish species differ in diets. My time at the PSC and with OSCAR has been the most exciting summer during my undergraduate years and I hope that in the future I will be able to return and continue to work on related projects.
Written by: Sabrina Barkat
My name is Sabrina. I am a current student in OSCAR program for summer 2018. My work is about investigation and fate of emerging contaminants in Gunston Cove of Potomac river in Alexandria.
We extract micropollutants from water, sediment and fish samples and use liquid chromatography-mass spectrum (LC-MS/MS) method to analyze the extracts. We solid phase extract the micropollutants from water samples and use QuEChERS to extract them from sediments and fish and then run the extracts in the LC-Ms/MS instrument and we analyze the results.
After that, we apply the KABAM model to predict the bioaccumulation of chemicals in organisms’ tissues. More interestingly, the work is collaborative, and this gives me a good opportunity to interact with people with different background and be involved in group work.
This research is the best experience in my academic pathway because I feel that I absorb lot of information related to my field and I am surrounded by a huge, friendly and experienced team working with me in the lab. Moreover, this research involves lot of data analysis and use a lot of literature resources where I learn more about my research and related topics and I develop skills in data analysis and time management. I learn from every single step I process, and I strengthen my experience in the lab work, I interact with people with high experience and I learn to work under pressure of time which I can apply in my daily life as well. I, also, should admit that this research is a guide for me to pursuit my graduate program in the same field of study.
Hi! I’m Emily, I’m a rising junior at Mason, and I’m lucky to be an OSCAR student this summer! The team I work with is studying the Potomac River, and we work at the Potomac Science Center (a new Mason campus in Woodbridge, VA).
In addition to doing our research, we have been able to do some local outreach events, teaching kids about the water and the invertebrates in it!
The first outreach event was with Fort Belvoir Middle School, when they have their Water Quality Field Day. They come to the Fairfax Water treatment plant, and
there are tables set up throughout the whole plant to teach them new things! It was a super fun day, and the kids seemed super interested. Our table was about talking to kids about the water and why river mussels are so important to the Potomac river & also explaining the invasive species (Corbicula clams and mystery snails!)
The second outreach event was at Occoquan Regional park for their grand opening! This day was all about turbidity (how much dirt is in the water, and how clear it is) and also what kind of zooplankton are in the water. There was a microscope with Daphnia manga (a type of zooplankton commonly found in the Potomac River), and jars with different turbidity levels to show the difference.
I love outreach events, they make my job so much fun, and to teach kids about what I do is awesome!
Dr. Dann Sklarew‘s Sustainability in Action course (EVPP 480) always participates in a river clean up. This is the third clean up of 2018, during the summer session, and students enjoyed great weather for kayaking on the Occoquan. Balloons, a beach ball, water bottles, and fishing line were some of the most commonly found items. The kayaks were generously provided by Occoquan Regional Park.
Featured Image: Dr. Dann Sklarew‘s Sustainability in Action Course did a clean up of the Occoquan river in April 2017. They braved the wind to collect 19 bags of trash! The most commonly found items were bottles (glass and plastic), Styrofoam, and fishing line.
Being part of a river community has tremendous perks. Our students and faculty have worked with John Houser and the Occoquan River Community for years, conducting research sharing family-friendly water quality activities at the Occoquan River Festival, as well as updating the community on research and programming on annual Rivershore cruises and participating in river clean-ups. This community has provided Mason students with diverse experiences as well as valuable networking connections.
When the Occoquan Regional Park Manager, John Houser, and the Occoquan Water Trail League (OWL) needed help to complete the installation of mile marker signs along the 40mile stretch of river shore, they immediately looked towards hiring George Mason students. The OWL is a volunteer affiliate of the Occoquan Water Trail and NOVA Parks, composed of recreational paddlers and others committed to low-impact use, conservation and resource stewardship of our shared waterways. Weather and tides permitting, river marker sign installation should be completed by the end of June.
We’re proud to be a part of the newly organized Occoquan River Communities Alliance, said PEREC’s Dr. Cynthia Smith, where the business, university, parks, town, arts and communities routinely come together supporting each other.