More than 200 students from Tracy High School and Kimball High School have been participating in a research project that focuses on analyzing carbon dioxide (CO2) trapped in mustard plant leaves from the surface atmosphere.
Using Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and careful protocol, they collect samples of mustard leaves located within the Tracy area. These leaf samples are then brought to the Laboratory's Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (CAMS) by Tracy High School physics teacher Dean Reese, who oversees the project. The samples are graphitized and analyzed for their isotopic concentrations; the data collected at CAMS is then brought back to the students for analysis.
Reese has been completing a Department of Energy teacher internship program called ACTS or Academies Creating Teacher Scientists, at CAMS with the help of mentor Tom Guilderson, a senior research scientist at Lawrence Livermore.
Reese explains that the participating students benefit in many ways from this project: they learn the basic science behind the tool of an accelerator mass spectrometer; they have a firsthand experience in understanding the production of radiocarbon as well as its decay due to its relevance to this project; they are introduced to California legislature (AB 32), which potentially requires the monitoring of CO2 and its sources; they discover that the isotopic composition of CO2 varies based on the source; and they learn to think critically about photosynthesis and cellular respiration as processes that move carbon into and out of reservoirs in the carbon cycle. Lawrence Livermore National Security provides funds to non-profit organizations dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
"These students are our future," said George Miller, LLNS president and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory director. "They represent the next generation of scientists and researchers. With this gift, we hope to encourage their continued pursuit of science."