Children participating in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s Engineer It program on Saturday spent the afternoon learning about the water they use every day to stay hydrated, clean and fed.
In Engineer It: Water Works, a team of engineers from MWH Global’s Baton Rouge office took turns answering questions about both our local water supply and water supplies in general.
Engineer It is part of a series of lessons presented by members of Baton Rouge’s local engineering community at the museum on the third Saturday of the month, said Sheree Westerhaus, planetarium educator. Last month’s program was on bridge building, she said, and LASM is in the process of coming up with more ways to expose area students to engineering, in itself a combination of art and science.
The design process for artists is very similar to the problem-solving process used by engineers, said Douglas Kennedy, communications coordinator for the museum.
Students learned, when presented with brown water from the Mississippi River just outside the museum’s doors, how the water they drink goes from dirty to clean.
“Now, we don’t get our water from the Mississippi River,” Thomas said, “but the city of New Orleans does.”
The students mixed in some potting soil to represent the silt and sediment that would normally be in water drawn directly from natural sources, then learned how municipalities go about cleaning the water up for residents.
Jeff Duplantis, Sparkle Noble, Theresa Kelly-Brown and James Thomas, of MWH, led the students, ages 6 to 12, through the process of building their own water filtration system with recycled 2-liter bottles, sand and rocks.
Jesse Noble, 8, paired up with Cale Carlisle, 7, at one end of their makeshift laboratory table while Cross Carlisle, 10, and Sadie Noble, 12, were at the other. Each station had coffee filters and the 2-liter bottle, cut in half.
Following instructions from the engineers, the students put the coffee filter around the neck of the bottle, secured it with a rubber band, and inverted it into the bottom half of the bottle, which would be used to catch the filtered water.
Students then added layers of sand and different-sized pebbles to the bottle top, and poured in the dirty water. What dripped out of the filter was still a bit cloudy, but was free of the potting soil “sediment.”
The water we drink in Baton Rouge, Duplantis said, went through the same basic filtering process as the water on the lab tables, but used the ground under our feet as the filter layers.
“The water we drink in Baton Rouge fell in Mississippi hundreds of miles north of us in the time of the dinosaurs,” said Duplantis, adding that it is very high quality coming from the ground, requiring only light filtering and a disinfection process to kill any bacteria that might be present.
MWH Global is an engineering firm headquartered in Colorado that specializes in water-related engineering projects. The American Society of Civil Engineers and Forte & Tablada, an electrical engineering firm, provided support for the event.