VINS Spring Science Symposium











How does sunscreen impact brine shrimp health?  How can I help to prevent water erosion in my backyard? How can I decrease the amount of energy I use each day? What can I do to help minimize the number of automobile accidents?  These are just a few of the questions that students from Lebanon Middle School, the Newton School, and Riverside Middle School wondered.  Students from these three schools spent weeks to months preparing for the Spring Science Symposium that happened at the VINS Nature Center on May 15th.  All students started with a question which eventually led into the projects that they shared at the symposium.  All students, teachers, parents, community members, VINS employees and other VINS guests found inspiration and excitement in a jam-packed, middle school event!  The second annual Spring Science Symposium gave these students an opportunity to share their research and findings regionally with over 160 students, teachers and guests. Across the campus you could hear students asking each other questions about their projects, exclaiming when looking at macroinvertebrates, cheering on one another as they 




generated energy on a stationary bike, or collaborating on how to save the town from water erosion at the stream table. VINS is lucky to be able to support a growing community of student-scientists in the Upper Valley.


The day began with our keynote speaker, Dr. Celia Chen, Dartmouth College engaging the students, teachers, parents, community members, and other VINS guests with a presentation on toxic metals in our environment.  Celia focused on her favorite element, Mercury, explaining where to find it and how it impacts our environment.  Students found out how metals such as mercury can impact our lives and the environment.  Biomagnification was also discussed and students were able to become a part of the presentation by explaining just how mercury can end up as part of our diet, such as in fish.

After Celia’s presentation, students explored the VINS campus visiting various activity stations.  The Black River Action Team and Hanover Conservancy Macroinvertebrate Station was led by Kelly Stettner and Courtney Dragiff.  Here students explored these water bugs and were able to determine the water quality of the rivers they were taken from.  Macros such as Caddisfly larva, Mayfly Nymphs, and Stonefly larva were found which told the students that the water they were looking at was basically pollution-free!  Organisms such as these are called pollution sensitive and can only live where there is little to no pollution.  Students were excited to know that streams and rivers in the Upper Valley are so healthy!  Dan ‘Rudi’ Ruddell from the White River Partnership led the Crayfish and Watershed Station which allowed students to learn more about how our watersheds are divided and what crayfish mean to the ecosystem.  Students were excited to hold these creatures and were even able to examine the exoskeleton and other body structures.  At the Water Quality Station, Alayna Westcomb, former Miss Vermont led students through a series of different water tests, such as pH and nitrates to determine if the sources of water were healthy.  Alayna, a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) enthusiast loves working with students to get them excited about these fields.  The students were able to collect data and share what they found with one another from 15 various samples of water from Burlington, Vermont to Lebanon, New Hampshire.

At another fascinating station, the Sullivan County Soil and Water Conservation District from Unity, New Hampshire provided a stream table that models how water erosion can impact a town and how people can help to prevent it.  VINS Environmental Educators, Rachel Hamre and Jim Armbruster guided students to help a ‘local town’ from flooding and stream erosion through the use of the stream table.  Students placed culvert pipes, bridges, houses, people and farms along the stream in hopes to diverge the water and provide a stable place for this ‘town’ to live.  Students found out just how challenging it can be for city engineers to help protect their town from something that seems so simple as how a stream or river can flow.

Students also visited several stations with the Vermont Energy Education Program (VEEP) which allowed students to see how much energy things really need to work! Julian Leon, an Energy Educator at VEEP shared how all energy sources needed three main parts: a magnet, a conductor (wires) and mechanical energy to power the device.  Students pedaled away on a stationary bike or used a hand crank to see how fast they had to move to light up light bulbs, run a motor or supply power to a noise maker.  These were all surprisingly more challenging tasks than students thought they would be.  Students also had the ability to test out solar panels with different light bulbs and different shapes of blades for wind turbines to see how the variation changed the energy output.  Some students came to VINS with projects that were energy-based and they found it interesting to see more in depth how energy works.

​After another amazing Raptor Program in the newly remodeled pavilion at VINS and a break for lunch, students finally got to the culmination portion of the day: the presentations of their projects.  Students from Lebanon Middle School walked through the projects of both Newton School students and Riverside Middle School students, asking questions, having conversations and learning something new from each individual group or person.  The students from Newton School and Riverside Middle School also had a chance to walk through the Lebanon Middle School students’ projects as well, learning new and exciting things they may not have known before.  Although the day was over before we knew it, it was clear that much learning and fun had taken place.  When students presented their projects, they were confident, knowledgeable, and clearly passionate about their work.  The collaboration that happened that day was priceless and without the work that the teachers, students, VINS educators and other employees, Science Symposium partners, parents, community members, among others, it would not have been as successful.  The VINS Science Symposium this spring was remarkable collaboration of middle school students at their best.  Please visit the VINS Facebook page to see more pictures that were taken throughout the day. 

By, Michelle Amato



Contact with questions or comments.