Monday, January 30, 2012

Pop-able Pollutants Explained

It is best to say that people around the world are finding ways to go green.  We are noticing that most products we consume affects our Earth.  Through observations and experiences we've seen how our future generations are also affected.  One of the common environmental problems is water pollution.  Many water sources are being filled with toxins.  Our lakes, oceans, rivers, streams, and ground water are being contaminated with a toxin known as phosphate (pronounced fos-fate).  This white powdery (in)organic nutrient can be dissolved in water.  Similar to nitrogen, it is commonly found in fertilizers and detergents.  When too much phosphate is being drained into the water, it becomes hazardous.

Courtesy of
When phosphate finds its way into water sources, it begins to feed many organisms.  It fertilizes many of the plants causing an exponential growth of algae, known as algal bloom.

China algae out break.  Courtesy of
 Algae's function in the water system is to collect and provide oxygen in the water. When there is too much algae, two things can happen. 
One:  An excessive amount of oxygen is produced and suffocates aquatic creatures.  
Two:  Sunlight will not reach certain algae to produce energy or nutrients which causes them to die.  As the algae decompose (or die) at the bottom of the water bed, it releases toxins which eliminates the oxygen in the water.  No oxygen means no life for any of the water plants or creatures. 

Can you imagine all the areas affected by algal blooms?

Photo of phosphate.  Retrieved from

Algae Alternative Inc.  (2005).  Laundry detergent ingredients. Retrieved from

City of London. (2012).  Understanding phosphorus, the need for reduction and the effect of too much phosphorus on the environment. [24 January 2012]  Retrieved from

The Associated Press.  (2010).  Big algae bloom expanding off China's east coast.  Retrieved from

Additional Websites:
National Geographic (2010).  World's largest dead zone

Making an algal bloom.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pop-able Pollutants

Before consumers knew that their products affected the environment, many laundry detergents contained an ingredient called phosphate. Phosphate minerals remove hard water minerals, prevent dirt from clinging back to clothes, and create suds; but phosphate is bad for the environment. This experiment helps us observe the amount of phosphate that could be in the detergent by the suds buildup in the container.

*Phosphates is no longer found in laundry detergent, but there are other detergents that might still contain phosphate in their ingredients.*

(1) Three clear containers of the same size with a lid 
(jars or water bottle)
(2) Three detergents (with various percentage of phosphate)  
(3) Water
(4) Scissors, ruler, permanent marker, teaspoon, and paper
[Step 1] 
Take a blank piece of paper and a ruler.  Draw points in 1 centimeter increments. 

[Step 2]
Cut out a strip to use as a bendable ruler.

[Step 3]
Place the marked paper against the bottle.  Make sure  0 centimeters is aligned with the bottom of the bottle or jar.

[Step 4]
Mark the centimeter increments on the the bottle or jar using the permanent marker.

[Step 5]
Fill the bottles with water to the halfway mark. 

[Step 6]
Fill each bottle with a teaspoon or proportionate amount of  specific detergent.
For these 14 oz. bottles we added half a teaspoon or less of detergent. For 16 oz. bottles it is suggested to use a teaspoon of detergent.

[Step 7]
Seal the bottle and shake the solution. 
For the experiment there should be 3 trials.
Trial 1:  Shake for 1 minute.
Trial 2:  Shake for 5 minutes.
Trial 3:  Shake for 10 minutes.

[Step 8]
After mixing the solutions, observe the amount of bubbles that have been created.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stream Table

At our school we recently purchased a wonderful tool for experiments. Just a few weeks ago we started it up for the first time. The only camera I had with me was a low quality phone camera, but this shows our first trial. One of many uses this table will get.

This is exciting for us. We now have a new medium on which to study and teach! Imagine the possibilities!