Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


A girls engineering team can't bear to see what weight their truss bridge can bear

Girls wonder what weight their truss bridge will bear. Forty-three percent of 183 participants in the fifth STEM Camp Bosch sponsored were female

Adding cornstarch to oobleck

Adding cornstarch to oobleck

Avery Lyons pokes an egg shell immersed in an acidic solution

Avery Lyons pokes an egg shell immersed in an acidic solution

Boys calculate pH levels

Boys calculate pH levels

Coding moves for animated Dance Party figures

Coding moves for Dance Party figures

Nichole Dohm demonstrates

Nichole Dohm demonstrates "elephant's toothpaste"

SMC STEM Camp Explores Ocean Acidification

Published on July 27, 2023 - 5 p.m.

Whether you’re saving oceans from climate-change acidification one chicken egg at a time, coding moves for animated dancers, making oobleck or engineering truss bridges, hands-on activities stress problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaborative teamwork.

Southwestern Michigan College’s fifth STEM camp July 25-27 for students entering grades 4-6 this fall attracted 183 children — 43-percent female — from across Michiana to the William P.D. O’Leary Building on the Dowagiac campus.

“It’s a great age to tap into because of their excitement,” says Math and Physics Professor Andrew Dohm, who writes the grants that the Bosch Community Fund awards to underwrite four-workshop summer camps that are free to all participants.

SMC Associate Professor Deirdre Kirk introduced the pH (potential of hydrogen) scale of 14 used to specify acidity or basicity of aqueous solutions.

Acidic solutions with higher concentrations of hydrogen ions are measured to have lower pH values than basic, or alkaline, solutions, with seven being neutral.

Students rotated among eight stations, testing lemon juice, ammonia, vinegar, milk, baking soda solution, milk of magnesia, Coca-Cola and distilled water.

“People with acid reflux take antacids such as milk of magnesia, Mylanta or Tums to counteract stomach acid to relieve indigestion and heartburn,” Kirk said. “In environmental science, we’re concerned about carbon pollution in the atmosphere because half of that gets absorbed back into the oceans. Marine scientists like me don’t want that because it causes other impacts. One is acidification, which causes issues with organisms — specifically lobsters, clams, oysters and crayfish” which have exoskeletons that armor their bodies in contrast to humans’ internal endoskeletons.

Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH over an extended time period, primarily from carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

Between 1950 and 2020, the average pH of the ocean surface fell from approximately 8.15 to 8.05. CO2 emissions from human activities are the primary culprit.

Ocean acidification reduces the amount of carbonate, a key building block in seawater. This makes it more difficult for marine organisms, including coral and plankton, to form their shells and skeletons. Existing shells may begin to dissolve.

When CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur resulting in the increased concentration of hydrogen ions. This increase causes seawater to become more acidic and carbonate ions to be relatively less abundant. 

Changes in ocean chemistry can affect the behavior of non-calcifying organisms as well. Certain fishes’ ability to detect predators is decreased in more acidic waters. When these organisms are at risk, so may be the entire food chain.

Ocean acidification also affects coastal estuaries and waterways. People globally rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein.

For their experiments they substituted chicken egg shells immersed in neutral water, ammonia base and acidic vinegar. They mixed an acidic solution of 200 mL water and 100 mL vinegar they measured into beakers with graduated cylinders.

Dohm, a Chrysler automotive engineer before entering the classroom, introduced a variety of truss types — Pratt, Howe, Warren, Parker, Baltimore, Warren with Verticals, Sub-Divided Warren, Pettit or Pennsylvania and K-Truss.

Dohm challenged campers to design their own spans using 20 paper straws and tape, then testing their load-bearing capability — 1,300 to 2,000 grams.

“The idea is to integrate some sort of triangular shape to help spread the load,” Dohm explained.

A truss is an interconnected framework of beams holding something up. Beams are typically arranged in a repeated triangular pattern. Stress cannot distort a triangle.

Edwardsburg eighth-grade computer science teacher Deb Kraska led coding on Chromebooks. Their programming introduction took them to, joining 80 million students in all 50 states — 30 million of them young women.

“My students start out making their own web pages so they can creatively express themselves,” Kraska said. “Next, they create games, learning how to make things move on their screens. Then they create an app. We do 3D printing and AI (artificial intelligence), too.”

“Over 70 percent of jobs in coding have nothing to do with computers or software,” Kraska said. “Coding is in industries such as fashion, art, medicine, even farming. There are over 700 coding languages,” including 1995’s JavaScript, primarily used to build web-based applications.

Another Edwardsburg Middle School teacher, Nichole Dohm, conducted matter experiments, making foamy “elephant’s toothpaste” by mixing yeast with hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap to trap oxygen bubbles in the exothermic chemical reaction, and oobleck with corn starch and water.

Oobleck can behave like a solid or liquid depending on pressure applied. Try to grab it in your hand and it forms a ball in your palm until you ease the pressure. Then it flows out between your fingers.

In Dr. Seuss’s 1949 book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, a boy must rescue his kingdom from a sticky green substance.

Students in safety goggles trooped outdoors to propel lids off tiny plastic containers with Alka-Seltzer tablets placed in warm water and set on the sidewalk.