Life in the Soil workshop for middle school girls

This weekend, Joseph Amsili and I ran a workshop on Life in the Soil as part of Cornell’s Expanding your Horizons science, engineering, and math conference for middle school girls, with the help of the CSS grad students. It was so much fun!

We designed a workshop focused on soil organic matter and soil ecology, which included looking for and identifying soil fauna and microbial cultures under the dissecting scopes (fan favourite: the pseudoscorpion), performing active carbon tests, and planting seeds for the girls to take home in specially-formulated Cornell University potting mix. I think it was especially nice to work through the active C test (which the Cornell Soil Health lab uses), because the girls got hands-on experience making hypotheses (will the forest or the agricultural soil have more active C?), working with the KMnO4 and pipettes, using a spectrophotometer, employing a standard curve, and interpreting their findings. It’s a nice demo, because the forest soil really thoroughly oxidises the bright pink KMnO4, turning the solution almost colourless, especially compared to the C-depleted ag soil we were using. The girls seemed to really enjoy the workshop overall, and I think the accompanying parents and student “buddies” did, too!Image