HTC senior takes nitrate project to symposium

Maggie Walker presents her project looking at the effect of sodium polyacrylate on nitrate absorption. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC.



FORT MADISON – A science project that looks at helping reduce the amount of nitrates entering natural waterways has a Holy Trinity Catholic students prepping for a state symposium.

Maggie Walker, a senior at HTC, has recently completed a science project where she used a super absorbent sodium polyacrylate to pull unfriendly nitrates from soil before precipitation can push the nitrates from the soil and into water tables and natural waterways. She will be presenting her findings at the University of Iowa on March 6.

When questioned about the practical uses of her experiment, Walker said it could be put to use without a lot of additional planning.

“This could work with a biodegradable liner treated with the sodium polyacrylate and place it along the edges of fields to pull nitrates that are in the soil from leaving into nearby waterways,” she said.

Walker presented her project to a cafeteria with about 40 people and students on Wednesday night. HTC Science Instructor Ernie Schiller said the presentation will serve as practice before presenting the project at the Southeast Iowa Superconference Science Fair coming in March and a science symposium at Iowa State University in April.

“Sodium polyacrylate is super absorbent and will pick up the nitrates as water flushes them off the fields,” she said. “Land is treated with nitrates as part of the fertilization process, but it’s not so good for our waterways. If you put this in the form of a liner it could help pull the excess from the fields.”

She said there is nothing currently in use right now, but she would like to look into the cost effectiveness as part of future studies she performs.

“This is based on a project I started last year and expanded on this year. In the future I’d like to look deeper at practical uses and the cost efficiencies of working with this type of environmentally healthy idea,” she said.

Walker showed students test tube samples as part of her video diary of the project and pointed out the different colors of the water as reflective of the amount of nitrates in the tubes and how the sodium polyacrylate helped reduce the amounts in the tubes.

The project was just one of many projects on display at HTC on Wednesday night. Other projects included looking at pH levels in saliva and the direct or indirect impact on hemoglobin A1c numbers in diabetic and non-diabetic studies, how proteins can effect blood glucose if consumed prior to carbohydrate ingestion, which toothbrush cleans your teeth better and stereotypes in criminal identification.

Students will take their projects to conference and regional competitions set for later this spring.

The project by Laura Mehmert, Kayla Box and Alexa Dingman talks about protein’s impact on blood sugars. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC.
Jake Pothitakis talks about which tooth brushes are best as part of Wednesday’s Science Fair. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC.


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