Looking into Local Labs

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By Emily Rios

Lowell High students took a trip down river road to the William X Wall Experiment Station in Lawrence. On Monday, April 1, these students were allowed a tour of a portion of the certified laboratory.

The station is home to the Division of Environmental Analysis, or DEA, running regulatory- not public- labs. Ushered into the inorganic and organic lab stations, Lowell High was introduced to the technical side of water quality and waste management.

While students made their way into the building, there were some key features in its design that nodded towards environmentally conscious efforts. By the wal ways, narrow channels had been dug and surrounded by stones, collecting rainwater and reusing it. As they walked in, a mosaic of blue and teal glass, imitating a running waterfall.

The first lab introduced was the inorganic lab. A specialist showed various instruments used in their procedures. The students were surprised about how intricate the experimentation process really is. Scientists and researchers have to use precautions for testing samples; there can be six different vials for testing only two samples.

Variables in the environment have to be taken into account, so scientists would make control groups to ensure accurate data. The data obtained needs to be valid because the results can be available for court cases.

Moving up to the organic and microbiological labs, two other specialists discussed the biggest concern for water quality- E Coli. This bacteria can infest potable- drinking- water and affect human health. The bacteria can grow within the human body and lead to illnesses like diarrhea.

While water quality seems to be regulated and safe here, it is a huge and looming threat to people around the world. Underdeveloped countries suffer by the thousands from a lack of sanitary water.

To test for E Coli in water samples scientists would use a standard procedure developed around the 1940s. This process seems outdated nowadays, taking up to three days to get results of bacteria in the water sampled. In the event of a pressing emergency, places and people can not afford to wait three days.

A solution to the long process was achieved through a second type of procedure. This involved adding reactive agents to the samples and vacuum sealing them into compressed pods. If the samples show a yellow color, it indicates that bacteria is present in the water sampled. The agents will react differently to detect  E Coli, showing a yellow color added by a fluorescent glow. The samples are placed under a black light to demonstrate that glow.

To test the bacteria levels in certain samples that are not water, agar plates are used to grow potential samples of bacteria. After putting the plates in incubators, scientists would wait days to see bacteria colony growth.

Students were able to witness the standard procedures and equipment used to safely test water and other sample quality. There is much more depth to the treatment of water sources that is not common knowledge. The field trip to the William X Wall Experiment Station proved to be informative as well as eye opening to the careers that affect our lives.