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Middle School Students Use Zebra Mussels to Measure Microplastic Pollution in Lakes

By October 14, 2019 No Comments

By Paul J Sniadecki, MLSA Board Director

After reading the title to this article, riparians might be wondering:

  • Can Zebra Mussels really be useful for something?
  • Is our lake/stream polluted with Microplastics?
  • Can Middle School Students do scientific work providing needed data?

The answer to all three questions is: YES!

Quinn Hughes and Tyler Clair, both seventh-graders at Minnetonka, MN Middle School West, care about the environment and have inquiring minds. One of their most recent projects — a research paper on microplastics in four Minnesota lakes, including Lake Minnetonka — earned them first place at the Twin Cities Regional Science Fair held March 1-2, 2019, when they were sixth-graders.

In their project, titled “Microplastics in Our Water; a Study of Minnesota Lakes indicated by Dreissena polymorpha (Zeba Mussels)”, Quinn and Tyler discovered Lake Minnetonka is home to more micro plastics than Lake Superior, Lake Mille Lacs and Lake Pelican.

Quinn and Tyler conceived the idea to study micro plastics after watching a documentary about micro plastics in Lake Superior. They contacted a Loyola University professor who taught them how to measure microplastics in a lake by taking samples of zebra mussels and dissolving the mussels in a potassium hydroxide solution, which leaves any microplastics intact and floating at the surface of the solution. They then counted and viewed the amount of microplastics using a simple microscope.

The skill and ability levels needed for this science project are about equal to what a riparian needs to do all the testing involved with the Michigan Cooperative Lakes/Streams Monitoring Program (CLMP).  To read the entire science project paper prepared by Quinn and Tyler, follow this link to the report on our website:

https://www.mymlsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/RESEARCH-PAPER_Hughes_Clair.pdf

MLSA will provide more info about the techniques used by the young scientists in a “Part 2” article in the MLSA November eNewsletter.