Hartford students study mercury via dragonflies - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Hartford students study mercury via dragonflies

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A personal approach to learning inspired high school sophomore Christopher Dorian.

"We went out and like interacted with it and we got the data ourselves. So we did it like it's our own touch," he says.

During the fall semester, Hartford High School sophomores like Dorian take biology with science teacher Meghan Wilson. For the last two years, Wilson and her students took on a project addressing a serious health and environmental danger -- the presence of mercury in bodies of water.

"I don't spend the entire year on the project. But we probably spend a week at the beginning collecting data and figuring out where in Hartford to collect the data. This year we decided on four different bodies of water in Hartford. Last year we decided on two," Wilson says.

Scientists have long researched the effects mercury has on public health.

Dorian and his classmates got to research their own hypotheses, but to test them, these high school students studied dragonflies.

Students learn that when the little winged creatures first hatch, they spend a few years sifting through water searching for things to eat.

The dragonfly larvae then start building up mercury content from their food in their stomachs, making them easy to catch indicators of mercury levels in their environment.

"We compared pretty much the mercury level of the dragon flies and the mercury level of the fish that were found in this research by the University of Hawaii," says junior Robert Varela.

This is the second year Hartford High School did this project, taking after Woodstock and Claremont schools who have been doing the same project for years.

At the end of the fall semester, the students presented their research at Dartmouth.

While the actual experiment may be over, these Hartford High School students have learned what their teacher says is a valuable lesson: Learning to answer the big scientific questions.

"Some questions are really hard to answer and so coming up with a question that is interesting but also accomplishable is difficult," Wilson says.

She says her students enjoy working with complex questions.

"Because most kids you know, forget everything from last semester. Now we can still remember everything that we did for this," says sophomore Jordyn Pallmerine.

Although not all of the students will go on to become scientists - they agree that their class's hands on approach made doing the research fun.

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