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Michael Peterson,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: Western Washington University
Catalysts for Reform
URL: http://gk12.wwu.edu

Thesis Title: Effect of Salmon Decomposition on Stream Trophic Levels

College/University: Western Washington University

Research Advisor: Robin Mathews

Teacher Partner: Eric Brown

Degree Sought  
Masters in Environmental Science

University Department and/or Lab  
Freshwater Ecology/Institute for Watershed Studies

Research Focus 
My research goal is to quantify the effect of salmon-derived nitrogen and phosphorus on stream community ecology.

Description of Research
Annual Pacific Salmon runs in Pacific Northwest watersheds provide stream ecosystems with substantial quantities of marine-derived nutrients. Previous evidence has shown that nutrients released from salmon carcasses following these runs can result in a comprehensive ecosystem response both in and alongside streams. My research objective is to quantify how effectively stream trophic levels recycle the nutrients released by the salmon and whether the density of salmon carcasses impacts the incorporation of these nutrients. The retention of these nutrients by stream plants and animals may be tightly linked with juvenile salmon survival rates and a rigorous understanding of the nutrient movement patterns is crucial to salmon population enhancement and management efforts.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
As a result of the GK-12 summer institute, I have made it my primary goal to de-mystify science by consistently bringing my research and experiences into my 8th grade classroom. Through collaborating with my partner teacher, I have incorporated my research into my classroom throughout the year as a primary example of the scientific method in action. I present updates of my research project to model scientific thinking as well as to show common challenges and successes of scientific research. In particular, I aim to model the challenge of explaining phenomena on the basis of observable evidence and the importance of inquiry as the engine for science. This framework and philosophy is integrated into planning classroom activities and when I challenge small teams of students to think to a deeper level. In each case I model my thinking and use my own research project as an example.

Currently, my class is investigating "Properties of Matter" by learning about the surprising number of mixtures and solutions in their everyday lives. Freshwater from streams, although "pure" in appearance, is an excellent example of a mixture of water, nitrates, phosphates and other substances that are important to animals and plants that live in the stream community. Bringing in jars of stream water, I challenged small groups in the class to categorize their local water (along with other materials) as either "pure substance" or a “mixture,” which launched discussion into the importance of different mixtures, both natural and human-generated.

As we move into the biology section of our curriculum, I will continually use my research and that of my peers as models of scientific thinking and to facilitate the process for students to discover links between what the have learned about "Properties of Matter" and important biological processes for humans and other wildlife.

Profile date: March 2007
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