LOWELL — On Wednesday, Oct. 4, Middlesex Community College students in an environmental science course participated in the Dragonfly Mercury Project National Citizen Project. Along with associate professor of science Lisa Lobel, students acted as citizen scientists to visit a wetland in Lowell to sample dragonfly larvae.
“This was a nationwide event that happened at all the National Parks to assess current mercury contamination in the environment,” Lobel said. “We had a super successful trip learning about the sources of mercury in our environment, how it accumulates in aquatic food webs, and how it is harmful to both aquatic organisms and humans.”
During the trip, students worked with park rangers from the Lowell National Historical Park to collect and identify dragonflies. Peyton Ballam, a biology transfer student from Billerica, volunteered to collect larvae out of the wetlands with a net and a spoon. The samples were put into ice cube trays and passed over to the scribes, who then chose which samples to use as data.
Data was sent to a facility to be added to an interactive map that will give scientists a stronger understanding of mercury contamination and how to combat it. The hands-on experience was valuable to Ballam in figuring out which part of STEM to pursue in the future.
“I have always been interested in researching and field work, but have never gotten to be a part of something that was as impactful and important as this,” Ballam said. “It has been able to guide me through to realize I would like to do more fieldwork and research to truly understand more!”
A business student from Lowell, Elisha Estrada took the environmental science course as part of her major. Having grown up in the city, Estrada was surprised to learn there was a state park in which to complete the project.
“I was excited to help with the research and I’m so happy I chose [the class],” Estrada said. “Professor Lobel is passionate about environmental science and that paired with her bubbly personality really makes it fun to learn. It was really cool to be part of such a big study.”