MIT SRP Visits Malden High School STEM Classes

By Bevin P. Engelward

MIT Superfund Program Director

Malden is an Environmental Justice community located on the historically industrialized Malden River. The Malden River is part of the Mystic River Watershed, within which three Superfund sites are located. Despite recent remediation efforts along the Malden River, many Malden residents are unaware or skeptical of their river’s accessibility for recreation.

In recent years, Malden High School teachers teamed up with the MIT App Inventor Program to start classes in computing and engineering. Working together, they designed these classes to engage students in developing real solutions to problems that affect their local community. This year, the classes were asked to design apps and sensors that could be used along the Malden River. This project allowed students in both classes to engage in the same kinds of creative work that real computer scientists and engineers do in the workforce, and provided the opportunity for them to have to have a real impact in their community. As inspiration for the students’ projects, the App Inventor team invited members of the MIT Superfund Research Program to Malden High School to discuss their innovative research in sensor design and technology development to promote environmental health. MIT SRP community partner Friends of the Malden River also supported interactions with the high school students.

On April 5th, CEC leader Kathy Vandiver and RTC leader Jenny Kay brought trainees Irene Hu and Tchelet Segev to visit classes at Malden High School. Ms. Hu is a graduate student in Prof. Harry Hemond’s laboratory, and Ms. Segev is a Masters student working under the guidance of Drs. Harry Hemond, Kathy Vandiver and John Essigmann. To provide inspiration for the students’ final projects, Dr. Vandiver first presented a brief history of industry on the Malden River. In addition, Dr. Kay provided an overview of MIT SRP’s research program, which includes studying the presence, transport, and health effects of chemicals in waterways potentially contaminated with chemicals from previous industrial activities. Ms. Hu then described her research project, which is to design a sensor to measure flux of chemicals from sediment to water. Finally, Ms. Segev discussed her work in testing household water supplies for contamination. By sharing current, cutting-edge MIT research with direct relevance to the classes, the SRP team aimed to inspire the students to design useful apps and sensors for application along their local river.

In just a few weeks, the students designed a variety of apps and sensors to make the Malden River more welcoming, raise awareness, and get the community excited about their local river. The students shared their final projects with the public on May 22nd, where members of the MIT SRP and Friends of the Malden River were able to view and appreciate the students’ excellent products.