Day1: Watershed

Brent Kruegerkruegerb@hope.eduHope College
Graham Peasleepeaslee@hope.eduHope College

Project Location

First‐year students measure the impact of human activity on local rivers and lakes by measuring the levels of sediment, phosphate and nitrate runoff. Taking the samples into the lab, students use advanced laboratory equipment and techniques to identify and quantify the microbial populations found within the watershed and correlate them with physical measurements.

Student Audience


Scientific Domain

  • Chemistry (General)
  • Ecology
  • Environmental science
  • Genetics/Genomics
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular and cellular biology

Nature of the Research

  • Wet lab/bench research
  • Field research
  • Informatics/computational research
  • Applied research

Core Concepts

  • Evolution: The diversity of life evolved over time by process of mutation, selection, and genetic change.
  • Structure and Function: Basic units of structure define the function of all living things.
  • Information Flow and Exchange: The growth and behavior of organisms are activated through the expression of genetic information in context.
  • Pathways and Transformation of Energy: Biological systems grow and change by processes based on chemical transformation pathways and are governed by the laws of thermodynamics.
  • Systems: Living systems are interconnected and interacting.

Core Competencies

  • Applying the process of science
  • Using quantitative reasoning
  • Tapping into the interdisciplinary nature of science
  • Communicating and collaborating
  • Understanding the relationship between science and society

Guiding Questions

  • What changes to the levels of sediment, phosphate and nitrate runoff will occur with local remediation efforts in the watershed?
  • What changes to microbial populations will occur with local remediation efforts in the watershed?
  • What associations are there between levels of sediment, phosphate and nitrate and the microbial populations in the water?
  • Are there seasonal and year over year changes in physical and microbial measurements?
  • What is the nature of cyanobacterial loads in the watershed as seasonal and physical measurements change?

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the local watershed, its environmental history and to investigate anthropogenic change within it.
  • Understand the influence of microbes on... well, everything.
  • Develop valuable study skills and laboratory science skills.
  • Build a network of friends and colleagues early in your college career.
  • Develop appropriate goals for this year, your college career, and your life.


This course is designed as a two semester introductory chemistry and biology laboratory research experience coupled to a first year seminar, a residential living community, and embedded academic support for students in introductory chemistry and biology lectures. Starting a week before the fall semester, students and faculty mentors perform a sampling event in the local watershed to measure physical and biological factors associated with water in different locations. Taking these samples to the lab, students learn general chemistry and biology lab skills through measurement of sediment, phosphate, nitrate, and microbial levels of water samples. Total DNA is isolated from water samples for 16S rRNA sequencing to determine microbial communities associated with the samples. The second semester focuses on computational analysis of data using unix based microbial ecology software and statistics packages. At the end of each semester, teams of students present their findings to peers. This research will help the on‐going remediation efforts of the community based program, Project Clarity, which aims to improve water quality throughout the entire Lake Macatawa watershed. 

Getting Started

This is a two semester sequence combining introductory general chemistry and biology laboratories. Typical equipment for these kinds of labs is required. In addition, laptops/tablet computers dedicated to the laboratory; kits for measuring phosphates, nitrates and biological oxygen demand; water filtration equipment; field units for pH and temperature measurements; sampling equipment; microbiological supplies for mTEC plating; filters for DNA capture; DNA isolation kits; next generation sequencing (on or off campus); open source data analysis software for sequencing data; spreadsheet and statistical packages for data analyses. 


2 hours per class period

Member Contact

Krueger, Brent Hope College
Peaslee, Graham Hope College

Class time

3-5 hours per week