The University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point is not usually regarded as a research university. However, just because our school lacks that title doesn’t mean our students do not contribute to important scientific studies.
Michael Waak, a senior water resources major with a chemistry minor, is one of seven students conducting research through the Advanced Techniques of Environmental Analysis class in the Water Resources department.
"It’s a pretty intense class," Waak said. The purpose of the course is for students to gain experience in their field and use real-world instruments to collect and analyze data. Student researchers collect samples and examine them in a laboratory. Waak is studying waters that flow in and out of the waste water treatment plant in Marshfield.
"All the water that comes out of the waste water treatment plant flows directly into Mill Creek," Waak said. "I’m looking at how many pollutants the treatment plant is actually removing from the water."
He is studying the water to find out what contaminants are left after treatment and what concentrations of them remain. "Low concentrations of anti-depressants, hormones, birth control, anti-psychotics, sleeping aids, antibiotics; they’re finding all of this in the water. And we don’t know what the effects of these are on the ecosystem or on humans," Waak said.
"I’ll be going to the waste water treatment plant and working with staff there to collect samples of the water that’s coming in, and then water that is going out," Waak said.
He will be testing the water for these potentially dangerous pollutants and preparing the data in a manner that allows him to explain it to the public. After his study is complete, Waak will present his findings to the class. He will also have the opportunity to show off his work at the College of Natural Resources (CNR) research symposium.
Like other students in the class, Waak was given $4,800 to carry out his research. The funds were provided by the Water and Environmental Analysis Lab (WEAL) located in the CNR. WEAL runs through UW-Extension in partnership with the College of Natural Resources. Other student projects currently underway are studies involving golf course pollutant runoff, paper mill sediments in fresh water, and the effects of waste water on private wells.