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Saturday, August 04, 2018

From MTU News: Putting Stamp Sand to Good Use, and Then Some

Stamps sands, materials left over from stamping copper out of mine rock, cover 1,426 acres of shoreline and lake bottom near Gay, Michigan. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

By Kimberly Geiger *
Posted Aug. 1, 2018
Reprinted here with permission

The Whiz Kids team from Lake Linden-Hubbell High School have participated in eCYBERMISSION, a US Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP). Their mission: research and develop a process to benefit their community.

The Whiz Kids -- Siona Beaudoin, Beau Hakala and Gabriel Poirier -- is the only team from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The group has been advised by students, faculty and staff from Michigan Technological University and focused on stamp sands for the past three years.

"Our elementary school, playground and football field were constructed on top of stamp sands -- materials left over from stamping the copper out of the mine rock," the team wrote in their AEOP grant proposal. "Also, many of our grandparents worked in area mines."

The team decided to try to use some of the stamp sand. Their goal was twofold: decrease the amount of stamp sand in the area and help prevent it from migrating any further.

This photo shows how the black stamp sands from Gay (at right) have been moving down the Lake Superior shore and around the breakwater at Big Traverse, threatening the clean sand on the other side. They also threaten fish spawning areas in the lake at Buffalo Reef. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Because stamp sand is rich in copper, many plants cannot grow in it. In fall 2016, the Whiz Kids decided to see which plants could grow in stamp sand. Using containers under grow lights at their school, they determined alfalfa and fescue grew well, while trefoil and red clover did not. This research won them first place in the national e-CYBERMISSION 8th grade competition. The team is now growing alfalfa and fescue in test plots on the Lake Linden stamp sands.

Three students pick up sand samples at the Gay stamp sands. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

In fall 2017, as ninth graders, the Whiz Kids placed first in Michigan. Instead of progressing through the eCYBERMISSION competition, they won an $1,800 STEM in Action Grant from the AEOP to continue researching stamp sand.

This time, the team used stamp sand from Lake Linden and nearby town of Gay as part of the fine aggregate in concrete. They found that the compressive strength of concrete made with stamp sand and commercial sand exceeded the strength requirements of lightweight concrete.

"Their hard work and dedication to a local scientific problem has shown that a few students at a small school can make a huge impact on their community. Growing plants on stamp sand and using stamp sand in concrete have opened the door to methods that could actually be used to remediate the stamp sands in the Lake Superior watershed."

-- Nick Squires, science teacher, Lake Linden-Hubbell High School

Each year Nick Squires, Lake Linden-Hubbell science teacher, offers his students activities for learning about the local ecology and stewardship practices in an area that has been disturbed by mining waste and remediated as a Superfund site. Here he shows his biology students how to plant dark-green bulrush and red-osier dogwood near the shore of Torch Lake in May 2016. These students also monitored the Lake Linden Village Sands (where the Torch Lake Superfund covered stamp sand from mining with vegetation) and collected data for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (Keweenaw Now file photo)**

Whiz Kids Go to Washington

Both last year and this summer, the Whiz Kids traveled to Washington, DC, to present their work at the eCYBERMISSION National Competition. This year's trip began on Father’s Day, June 17 -- the day of the Houghton County flood. They were supposed to leave on the 6 a.m. flight at the Houghton Airport.

Gabriel Poirier made it there on time. Beau Hakala was stuck in Mason between two mud slides that covered M-26. With the help of people in Mason, he and his family were driven through the flooded roads to Siona Beaudoin’s house, so that her father could drive them to the airport. United Airlines staff and TSA employees helped everyone stranded. The flight finally left around 5 p.m. and the team arrived in Washington, DC, at midnight.

While in DC, the team presented their concrete research at an eCYBERMISSION showcase and poster session. As part of the week-long activities, the team met with U.S. Representative Jack Bergman and Senator Debbie Stabenow to discuss their projects and their potential impact on the community.

The Whiz Kids are pictured here in Congressman Jack Bergman's office. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

With help from Representative Bergman, the team met with scientists at the EPA to learn how the agency implements new remediation methods. The team also received information about EPA contacts in Chicago and Duluth to discuss their projects in greater detail.

The Whiz Kids team members stand with EPA officials in Washington, DC. Mitigating stamp sand encroachment involves many stakeholders. Pictured in the blue shirts are, from left, Whiz Kids advisor Ryan Knoll, a chemical engineering senior at Michigan Tech and graduate of Lake Linden High School; Gretchen Hein, a senior lecturer in engineering fundamentals at Michigan Tech; and the Whiz Kids -- Gabe Poirier,  Beau Hakala, and Siona Beaudoin. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

As eCYBERMISSION attendees, they enjoyed engineering activities in DC, including how to operate and program drones, create a circuit and use night vision goggles to see the lights in the circuit, as well as about cybersecurity by hacking into a system.

At the recent eCYBERMISSION conference in Washington, DC, the Whiz Kids (Gabe, Beau, and Siona) learned how to use night vision goggles to see the lights in the circuit. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

Mentoring Makes the Difference

The Whiz Kids traveled to DC with their advisor Ryan Knoll, a chemical engineering senior at Michigan Tech and graduate of Lake Linden High School. Also advising the Whiz Kids are Lake Linden high school teacher Nick Squires; Gretchen Hein, a senior lecturer in engineering fundamentals at Michigan Tech; and Rob Fritz, a technical lab coordinator in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech. Fritz helped the team identify and test concrete mixtures.

"Ryan has been working with the team for two years," Hein says. "He is dedicated to the team and spends up to 10 hours a week with them after school."

"Ryan helped them develop technical writing skills and experimental process skills; he has emphasized the importance of science and math in high school and showed the team how their classes will help them be successful in college. He has truly been a mentor to the team."

-- Gretchen Hein, engineering fundamentals, Michigan Tech

"Mentoring this team has been a great experience for me, too," Knoll says. "It has helped me develop communication, teaching and presentation skills. The experience may have also given me an advantage while interviewing to be an engineering technician intern at Koppers Performance Chemicals in Hubbell. I look forward to working with the Whiz Kids as they continue their research throughout the next school year."

Joining the Conversation

As part of their research and interest in stamp sand, the Whiz Kids have attended public meetings on Buffalo Reef and Big Traverse.

"They were excited to see that using stamp sand in concrete was one of the proposed remediation methods," Hein says.

Researchers at Michigan Tech will help design long-term solutions for removing mine waste from the shoreline of Lake Superior and Buffalo Reef, an important fish spawning ground. According to one recent estimate, without action more than 60 percent of the reef will be smothered by stamp sands in the next 10 years.

This map shows the area of the potential 2018 stamp sands project for stamp sand removal and containment near Gay on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

The work is in partnership with state and federal agencies, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, area businesses, community members and stakeholders -- who are approaching the problem of removing a large volume of stamp sands to protect fish habitat, homes and beaches. With creative solutions, the Whiz Kids are joining the conversation.**

eCYBERMISSION competition

Although they will be 10th graders this coming school year and are now aged out of the eCYBERMISSION competition, the Whiz Kids will not disband. Beaudoin, Hakala and Poirier will continue to work with Fritz this fall. Additionally, they will be talking with younger students in the community about stamp sand and its impact, starting with the Lake Linden Elementary School Great Explorations program. They’ll show them how to make concrete stepping stones using stamp sand as the fine aggregate.

Furthermore, the team will be mentoring the 7th grade eCYBERMISSION team at Lake Linden-Hubbell High School that will consist of Jenna Beaudoin, Chloe Daniels and Rebecca Lyons. Last but not least, Beaudoin will be working with Andrew Burton in Michigan Tech's School of Forestry on a project for the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, another competition sponsored by the US Army Educational Outreach Program.

Editor's Notes:

* Keweenaw Now guest author Kimberly Geiger is outreach coordinator in the Michigan Tech College of Engineering. She supports the dean of engineering, associate deans, and all engineering departments. Her professional background includes work in book publishing, media relations, special event production, and sales.

** See "Students learn environmental stewardship through planting, monitoring, birding at Torch Lake Superfund site."

*** See "DNR stamp sand dredging buys time; EPA provides $3.1 million for Army Corps dredging to protect Buffalo Reef fish spawning habitat."