The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

ORNL scientists fan out to local schools and bring their research home during National Environmental Education Week

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5BABPNUwStudents listen to a presentation from an Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher during National Environmental Education Week.  Courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory
 

Scientists link research to students’ lives and communities

(Editor’s note: Karen Dunlap is a public information officer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory). 

Esther Parish is one of eight Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists talking to students in nine schools across East Tennessee as part of National Environmental Education Week.

On Monday, she spoke to Cathy Kimball’s fifth-grade class at Lenoir City Middle School.

The discussion covered renewable energy resources, science career paths and how climate change may affect East Tennessee.

Other ORNL scientists, including Debjani Singh, Liz Agee, Shelaine Curd, Spencer Washburn, Colleen Iversen, Keith Kline and Matthew Langholtz are participating in classroom events through April 30.

The national event is organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), which celebrates environmental education.

“I think it is important to reach out to young people about environmental science because the choices that our society makes regarding renewable energy resource development and climate-change mitigation will have long-term effects on their environment, health and future quality of life,” Parish said. She is a member of ORNL’s Environmental Science Division and specializes in geography and landscape ecology.

Parish explained her work at the lab, which she described as a “city of scientists and engineers looking for better types of energy.”

tX0Xx5jgEsther Parish is one of eight Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists who linked her research to the lives of East Tennessee students as part of National Environmental Education Week.  Courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory

She also talked to the students about the impacts of climate change on their own communities.

“As our climate changes, we will see different types of trees begin to grow in the Smokies, as well as more nuisance pests and bugs, such as ticks,” she said.

“Agriculture will be affected; farmers may need to change what types of crops they can grow.”

More frequent local flooding and an increase in the number of people with allergies and asthma also demonstrate how changing climate conditions affect East Tennessee, she told the students.

Parish also discussed how scientists use supercomputers – such as Summit, the nation’s most powerful supercomputer, located at ORNL – to better understand how systems on Earth interact.

She surveyed the class on what they knew about sources of energy; solar panels and hydropower were the first two answers, and gasoline was third. She explained how energy sources have unique tradeoffs: Each type has benefits and impacts to consider.

Parish said her own interest in environmental education began in her middle school years when she became concerned about oil-tanker spills that were making headlines. 

National Environmental Education Week is congressionally chartered to complement the work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s a nonpartisan organization working to make the environment more accessible, relatable, relevant and connected to people’s daily lives. NEEF partners with educators, students, government agencies, businesses, communities and nonprofit organizations to inspire environmental learning and encourage stewardship of the world’s natural resources.

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