Department of Chemistry

USM develops some chemistry with Portland High School

A group of University of Southern Maine students and faculty sparked a partnership with Portland High School's environmental science class, working together to find out just what's killing all the fish in the Green River.

The Department of Chemistry, along with the Chemistry Club and the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), invited the group of juniors and seniors from PHS to take advantage of USM's facilities and work collaboratively on the Green River Project.

(WATCH: USM and Portland High School collaborate on chemistry lab)

"We're developing this partnership between USM, Portland High School and Portland Public Schools, and we're trying to get the students over here," said Beverly Robinson, environmental science teacher at Portland High School. "There are more instruments for them to use, there's more lab space, and obviously, very talented people here that can help them through the labs."

Three Portland High School students work on lab at USMThe Green River Project is an abbreviated version of an introductory course offered at USM. By testing water samples from the fictitious Green River, the students try to determine the source of contamination that's led to a mass fish kill.

The environmental science class cycled through the lab's four stations, each group with five water samples from the river to inspect. The students tested the samples by looking at conductivity, pH, turbidity and chromatography. Using that information, each group then attempted to pinpoint the source of pollution.

For the students, it was a chance to explore chemistry at the next level-- allowing them to use instruments and equipment that might not be normally available -- while having the opportunity to pick the brains of experts in the field in a one-on-one setting. According to Robinson, the trip to USM provides a window to the high schoolers to see first-hand what they would study in chemistry and what they could possibly do with a degree in chemistry or environmental science.

Lucille Bennedict speaking with USM and PHS students while working on a labAnd for USM students, it was a chance for them to give back and share their passion about chemistry.

"Our SETAC and Chem Club students do a lot of outreach in the community, and this is one of the ways we're trying to expand our outreach to high school groups," said Lucille Benedict, associate professor of chemistry at USM. "For them, it's a great experience to interact with high school students, a place where they've been. Now they're in college and can share their experiences."

Dominic Arris, biochemistry major, was once in the shoes of the Portland High students. Now he's passing his knowledge to the next generation of chemists.

"It's just really fun to go out to outreach to all these kids because a lot of them don't know where they want to go or what they're going to do," remarked Arris, a member of both SETAC and Chem Club. "Everyone says 'when am I ever going to use this stuff,' but they can come into our lab and talk with us and experience where they actually are going to use these mathematics and chemistry that they've learned in high school, and they get to apply them."

PHS Students working on a chromatography project at USMStudents from Casco Bay High School will also visit USM to work the Green River Project in March. As for Portland High School, its chemistry class and USM will be teaming up later on in the semester to work on a different lab.

"We're very excited about this opportunity, and we're looking forward to continuing on with it in the coming years," said Robinson.

To learn more about the Green River Project and USM's partnership with Portland High School, along with some behind-the-scenes footage from the lab, check out the video at the bottom of the page.

MORE: Read The Forecaster's recap of Portland High's visit to the USM chemistry labs.

VIDEO: USM and Portland High School collaborate on chemistry lab