The Shape of Water: Engaging Budding Scientists to Explore the Deep

by |March 16, 2022
hands catch water coming out of a hand pump

Photo: Kelly L from Pexels

Every year on March 22, people across the globe recognize World Water Day. This year, the United Nations announced that its theme for the day will focus on an often overlooked resource that accounts for about 30 percent of all readily available freshwater in the world: “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible.” The theme goes to the very core of survival for about 2.5 billion people who depend solely on groundwater — the underground water found in the cracks and spaces between soil, sand, and rock — for their basic daily water needs.

The biggest threats to groundwater — contamination and overuse to the point of depletion — are a direct result of human activity, and the devastating results tend to disproportionately impact the most vulnerable groups

Capitalizing on the expertise of leading scientists, Barnard College of Columbia University has organized a day of hybrid programming on March 22 to explore water access and how it impacts the lives of women and girls.

Martin Stute, adjunct senior research scientist in geochemistry at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) and co-chair of Barnard College’s Environmental Science Department, has a research portfolio that includes the study of contaminant transport in groundwater. It’s a big issue.

Stute will be among the presenters, offering a demonstration of the ways groundwater moves in the earth and how it is vulnerable to contamination.

His program is designed to spark interest and understanding. Using small plexiglass tanks filled with sand as a tool to visualize groundwater flow and transport in an interactive way, Stute will demonstrate key concepts around the science of groundwater. He will show how surface waters and groundwater interact, how groundwater flows much slower than water in rivers, how groundwater is a shared resource, and how pollutants spread widely in the subsurface and can affect water quality.

The day will also feature a lecture by LDEO adjunct senior research scientist and Barnard geochemistry professor Brian Mailloux about his project to monitor coronavirus in wastewater at Barnard; a talk by Sandra Goldmark, Barnard theatre professor and the director of Campus Sustainability and Climate Action, on creating a circular campus by reducing waste and emissions while supporting equity and community resilience; a student panel on environmental activism, with an introduction by Barnard associate director of sustainability Leslie Raucher; and a writing workshop about careers in environmental journalism led by Barnard’s special guest, acclaimed journalist and author Cynthia Barnett. In the evening session, Barnett will be in conversation with Barnard president Sian Leah Beilock.

This discussion is the spring signature event for the Barnard Year of Science, a year-long celebration of the college’s leadership in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), underscoring Barnard’s expert faculty, its symbiotic relationship with Columbia, and its location in New York City, which makes it singularly positioned to offer unparalleled opportunities to women who will become tomorrow’s STEM leaders.

Register for the World Water Day events here.


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