Science

Drought conditions may restrict growth of algae in Lake Erie

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Dry weather is keeping the algae blooms in Lake Erie at bay. The lack of rainfall means little run off into the Maumee River leading into the lake. The runoff is the main source of phosphorus that feeds the algae growth. The phosphorus in the runoff largely comes from the fertilizer that farmers use on their fields. Thursday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a prediction for a less severe algae bloom in the western Lake Erie Basin. On hand at the announcement were Bowling Green State University researchers Michael McKay, director of the BGSU marine program, and George Bullerjahn, professor of biological sciences. That prediction, they said during an interview on Friday, is good as it stands, but is subject to change. If it starts pouring, Bullerjahn said, the algae could be back. “We’re relying on luck and nature,” McKay said. Whether an algae bloom develops into a toxic algae bloom like the one that closed down the Toledo region’s water system in 2014 depends on many factors – wind, heat and the presence of nitrogen, another key ingredient in fertilizer. The extent of that algae bloom, Bullerjahn said, was moderate, but it had high levels of the toxin microcystin. That crisis sent people in the region scrambling for water and scientists, officials and politicians scrambling for solutions. However, “we can’t predict how toxic a bloom will be,” Bullerjahn said. There’s no correlation between how green a bloom is and how toxic it is. Earlier this year a toxic bloom occurred in the Maumee River near Defiance, forcing that city to resort to its back up reservoir for water. As a result of the 2014 crisis, a goal was set last year to reduce phosphorus in the lake by 40 percent. “There’s growing agreement this will bring blooms to a manageable level,” Bullerjahn said. He said scientists are optimistic the goal can be reached. Certainly there will be some hardship, he said, “but nobody’s going crazy.” It will take time. “Don’t expect this to be reached soon,” McKay said. McKay said a first step is to identify “hot spots” where a large amount of phosphorus is being released. In those areas farmers can apply the fertilizer underneath the surface of the field mitigating the run off. Also, a return to the old practice of planting winter cover crops such as rye would help since those crops would absorb more of the nutrients in the soil. Also, farmers can leave more buffer areas between fields and streams and the river, he said. Bullerjahn said he would hope incentives to help farmers take these steps could be offered. Many farmers are being proactive, he said. Bullerjahn said fertilizer use has already declined. Probably, McKay noted, because of price. These measures should be enough, though, to eventually achieve the 40 percent reduction, McKay said. Other sources of phosphorus, such as sewage have already been addressed. “If you completely eliminated sewage overflow, you’d get a 5-percent reduction in phosphorus,’ Bullerjahn aid. Also, McKay said, some people point a finger at the Detroit River as a major source of phosphorus. Indeed 2 million of the 11 million metric tons of phosphorus going into Lake Erie enters from the Detroit River. That’s balanced out by the 2 million…


BGSU’s Torelli discusses citizen science in Washington D.C.

From BGSU OFFICE OF MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS BGSU chemist Dr. Andrew Torelli is part of an international effort to raise awareness of the importance of science to society and to engage the public and legislators with current issues. Torelli recently served on an invited panel of experts as part of an informational briefing for members of Congress, their representatives and the public in Washington, D.C. The panel’s topic was “Citizen Science: Empowering a Robust National Effort.” Torelli shared the exciting example of the Smartphone InSpector, a device developed by an interdisciplinary team of BGSU faculty and students that equips a cell phone to identify and measure contaminants in water and upload the data to an online site. The system is being field tested by a number of area Rotary clubs to monitor regional water quality. The June 7 briefing was part of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Science and the Congress Project and the Consortium for Science Policy Outcomes at Arizona State University. “The purpose of these briefings is to provide members of the public and legislators on Capitol Hill with information on important topics in science that address national challenges,” Torelli said. The panel was moderated by Dr. Jamie Vernon of Sigma Xi and American Scientist magazine, with honorary co-hosts Sens. Steve Daines (Rep. Mont.), and Chris Coons (Dem., Del.). “It was great to see bipartisan support for the briefing,” Torelli said. The importance of citizen science is becoming clearer. According to the ACS, “As professional scientists explore the universe, they find instances and places where more hands, eyes, and voices are needed to collect, analyze, and report data.” The panel discussed “how various citizens are enhancing the nation’s scientific enterprise as well as ensuring that the government maximizes its benefits while avoiding any negative impact on the progress of science.” Since it can be used by ordinary citizens, BGSU’s Smartphone InSpector is a perfect example of how anyone, not only scientists, can contribute to the body of knowledge on the increasingly important question of water quality. Also on the ACS panel were Dr. Darlene Cavalier of Arizona State University, who created SciStarter, a site connecting people to citizen-science projects and other citizen-scientists; Dr. Sophia Liu, an innovation specialist with the United States Geological Survey who facilitates citizen scientists’ participation in such efforts as “Did You Feel It?” earthquake monitoring; and Dr. David Rabkin, vice president for strategic partnership, innovation and sustainability at the Museum of Science in Boston, which has been working at the intersection of citizen science, scientific research and relevant policy decisions for several years. Because of the popularity of the citizen science topic, the American Chemical Society is planning a repeat of the panel discussion that will be broadcast live over the Web on Aug. 23 during the 2016 ACS National Meeting meeting in Philadelphia. While in the capital, Torelli also met with the offices of Ohio Reps. Bob Latta (R-5th District) and Marcy Kaptur (D-9th District) to share news of the BGSU innovation. The panel discussion and meeting with Ohio representatives were just some of the ways in which Torelli, a specialist in crystallography, is involved with promoting public and legislative awareness of science and its applications. In 2014, he was invited to participate in the opening ceremony for the International Year of Crystallography,…


The cosmos is ready for its close up in Eric Zeigler’s exhibit

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The universe is on view in downtown Toledo. Or at least photographer Eric Zeigler’s vision of the universe, which includes: Galaxies of 100,000 stars, compressed into one small frame the size of a computer monitor. One of Pluto’s moons, the smear of light as good as anyone will likely ever see it. The rust on a meteorite in an image blown up 36-times its natural size. A computer image of neutrinos – subatomic particles so small 65 billion of them fit into a square centimeter – interacting. The exhibit “Under Lying” is now on view at River House Arts, 425 Jefferson St. The exhibit is open through July 30. For hours call 419-441-4025. The show will be part of Art Loop on July 21. The work, Zeigler explained, comes from his interest in astronomy that was sparked by a class he took at Bowling Green State University, where he earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Photography in 2008. He’d been taking photos since his early teens, inspired by his grandfather. Above the television in his grandparents’ home was a landscape photo his grandfather had taken. And scattered around the house were copies of Popular Photography magazine. His grandfather, Zeigler said, was interested in optics, and during World War II maintained sights on bombers that flew missions over Germany. Young Eric was fascinated by the data included in Popular Photography. What did the shutter speeds and aperture opening numbers mean? “I was totally addicted to figuring all this stuff out,” he said. He set his family’s new digital camera on manual. That helped him understand shutter speed, but the optics weren’t advanced enough to really vary the depth of field much. Then at about 16, a friend’s family gave him a film camera. It all clicked. The son of a carpenter, who worked with his father, he first attended BGSU to study construction management. “That lasted one day.” Then architecture. Then, since he liked making furniture, he decided to try the School of Art. Zeigler discovered he could take a photography class. That’s when his interest took off. It led him to the San Francisco Art Institute for a Master’s of Fine Arts. Though living on the West Coast the focus off his work remained rooted in Waterville. “The Route 24 bypass coming through Waterville took a significant portion of my parents’ property,” Zeigler said. “So there was this idea that I needed to visualize and preserve what it looked like before the road came through.” In essence, he said, it pose the question: “How do you make things that are just a figment of your imagination?” That body of work, “From the Middle of Nowhere,” shot over the span of more than three years, turned into his MFA thesis. He further explore the concept of visualizing the intangible through a series of diptychs, “Still Photographs.” Zeigler went through his archives. He spread hundreds of photographs of a variety of subjects out on the floor. From those he culled pairs that in some way resonated with one another. “I saw connections between them, the way the images that worked back and forth described this separate space,” he said. Together they expressed something that alone they could not. One shows a dead seal on a…


BGSU photochemical researchers make breakthrough

From BGSU OFFICE OF MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS A BGSU photochemical sciences research team has shown that a new and unusual reaction path in chemistry occurs not only in the gas phase, but also in solution. According to Dr. Alexander N. Tarnovsky, the finding, which is important to atmospheric photochemistry, also establishes the direct link between chemical reactivity in the gas phase and in solution. Tarnovsky and doctoral graduate assistants Andrey Mereschenko, Evgeniia V. Butaeva, Veniamin Borin and Anna Eyzips are the listed authors of a Nature Chemistry journal article about the finding. “Dissociation, the process of breaking a chemical bond, lies at the heart of chemistry,” Tarnovsky said. Dissociation of molecular bromine is one of the key steps in ozone depletion chemistry, so establishing the connection between bromoform and bromine is important in atmospheric photochemistry, he explained. About 10 years ago, chemists discovered a novel reaction mechanism in dissociation reactions of gas-phase molecules, called roaming. In roaming, a fragment, which can be an atom or a group, moves away from the rest of a molecule, as if the molecule were breaking into two pieces. But instead, the fragment separates just enough to give itself some space, and then starts wandering around in the vicinity of the remaining atoms. If long-range attractive and repulsive molecular forces are fairly balanced, the fragment roams other fragments until it finds a second attractive domain or opens enough space for the other group or atom to move in. The BGSU team showed that following ultraviolet excitation of geminal tribromides, including bromoform, what looks like simple fission of a carbon-bromine bond at first look is in fact isomerization (the process by which one molecule is transformed into another molecule with exactly the same atoms but in a different arrangement, and with different chemical properties) at fairly large distances via roaming of the molecular fragments. This new and unusual reaction path occurs not only in the gas phase, but also in solution. Bromoform is abundantly produced by nature. The practical consequence of roaming isomerization of this molecule is that it is thought to be followed by elimination of molecular bromine, leading to an increase of the reactive stock of this species in the atmosphere. Another immediate consequence of roaming is that it represents a deviation from the current chemical transformation paradigm, called transition state theory, and needs to be taken into consideration in practical applications requiring chemical reaction rates, Tarnovsky said. This is especially important in the liquid phase, where about 70 percent of chemical transformations take place. Because the reaction path is a new finding, Tarnovsky said this research would be ongoing for quite some time, with additional papers planned for publication.