Campus: CSU Los Angeles -- December 5, 2003

Cal State L.A. Students Use Unique Equipment to Study Effects of Pollutants on California Lakes

Interdisciplinary research team analyzes data and applies it to better characterize earth’s ecosystems

Undergraduate civil engineering and biology students at California State University, Los Angeles, are working together on an innovative project to determine how contaminants from cities are altering the chemistry and ecology of lakes.

Using a microlayer sampler – rare equipment designed to collect the very thin organic layer that covers lakes and oceans – students take samples from lakes near urban areas throughout California. The students and their professors examine these samples in Cal State L.A. laboratories to learn more about the impact of contaminants from factories, automobiles, and other pollutants on the lakes’ chemistry and ecology.

“Chemicals are attracted to, and have a tendency to accumulate in, this organic layer known as the ‘microlayer’ at the top of lakes,” explains Crist Khachikian (Burbank resident), assistant professor of civil engineering and leader of the project. “The microlayer sampler allows us to pick up and collect this organic microlayer, so we can study how factors such as rain, sunlight and urbanization affect the lakes’ chemical levels.”

The microlayer sampler is a rotating drum covered with a thin sheet of Teflon that skims along the surface of water. The water then slides off the Teflon, and the remaining organic microlayer is scraped into a container to be analyzed.

“We’re lucky to have this novel piece of equipment – there are only a few such samplers in Southern California,” says Khachikian.

Senior civil engineering major Scarleth Ramirez (Hawthorne resident), who has worked in Khachikian’s lab since she was a high school sophomore, recently returned from a trip to Pyramid Lake in Santa Clarita Valley, where she and fellow students gathered samples using the microlayer sampler.

“The field experience was awesome,” she says. “It helped me establish a relationship between what goes on in the lake and the research we do in the lab. But more importantly, we’re working to obtain solutions that someday may improve people’s living standards.”

Khachikian points out that the project is strengthened by pooling the skills of undergraduates from different disciplines. Civil Engineering junior Antonino Monterrosa (Los Angeles resident), Environmental Engineering graduate student Gina Lowe (Temple City) and Contaminant Hydrogeology graduate student Curtis Plotkin (Lakewood resident) are members of Khachikian’s research team.

“By working in the field and having access to this sort of research equipment, undergraduate students are getting fantastic training that would be difficult to get anywhere else,” says Khachikian.

CONTACT: Carol Selkin, Media Relations Director, (323) 343-3044

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