Texas A&M University-Kingsville

A&M-Kingsville Environmental Engineering Partners With Corpus Christi Museum for Kid-Friendly Air Quality Exhibit

KINGSVILLE - April 30, 2007

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361-593-4143

Monitoring station on museum roof supplies data to exhibit

L-R: Ron K. Barnard, “Rocky” Marciano Sanchez and Dr. Kuruvilla
L-R: Ron K. Barnard, “Rocky” Marciano Sanchez and Dr. Kuruvilla
John discuss the exhibit.

Starting this summer, youngsters visiting the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History may get their first lessons in air pollution and ozone levels through an exhibit born out of the environmental engineering department at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

The exhibit, formally titled the “Real-Time Air Quality Information Dissemination Project,” was made for elementary and middle school students. It consists of a 42-inch HDTV screen above a computer setup, showing a slide presentation explaining what ozone is, what pollutants are in the Corpus Christi air, and how we can all make our air cleaner. A second HDTV screen shows near real-time air quality results from a monitoring station on the roof of the museum—the first air monitoring station located in downtown Corpus Christi.

How all of this came about can be traced back to an idea last summer from associate professor of environmental engineering and associate dean of the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering Dr. Kuruvilla John and environmental engineering graduate student “Rocky” Marciano Sanchez at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Six ozone monitoring stations were originally positioned throughout San Patricio and Nueces counties, thanks to support from the university’s National Science Foundation-funded Center of Research Excellence in Science and Technology-Research on Environmental Sustainability of Semi-Arid Coastal Areas (CREST-RESSACA), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the City of Corpus Christi. The air quality data from these stations are collected by environmental engineering faculty and students, including Sanchez, and sent to a number of local and state entities to be tracked, including TCEQ and the City of Corpus Christi.

One notable part of the study area that wasn’t being monitored was downtown Corpus Christi, where there was increasing traffic from the American Bank Center and Whataburger Field, among other attractions.
As the placement of a seventh station was being mulled over, John and Sanchez had the idea of doing something more public than what they had done previously. Staging the station as a museum exhibit people could view was the result. The duo felt this public setting would enable people to understand their surroundings a little better and learn of the university’s air quality monitoring that has been taking place since 1997.

The Texas A&M-Kingsville team met with Roy Garrett of the museum’s exhibits department and Ron K. Barnard of the City of Corpus Christi Office of Environmental Programs, with all agreeing to move forward with the idea.

“A large amount of ozone is what we create, from cars and mowing, among other things. This exhibit can educate the public and children about this,” said Barnard. “Industry has started doing its part to reduce ozone precursor emissions. We need to tell the public of the role they play as well.”

Ground-level ozone is an air pollutant that is harmful to breathe and damages crops, trees and other vegetation. It also is a main ingredient of urban smog. Ground-level ozone forms from chemical reactions between heat and sunlight and two major classes of air pollutants: volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Exhaust from cars and mowers, emissions from industry facilities and electric utilities and gasoline vapors are some of the sources of VOC and NOx. These emissions are known as “ozone precursor emissions.”

Environmental engineering research associate Saritha Karnae joined John and Sanchez in developing the concept, along with graduate student Bob Castro. Meanwhile, CREST-RESSACA research education integration specialist Joyce Coleman worked with Corpus Christi-based Moody High School teacher Stephanie Story to develop lesson plans to accompany the exhibit. Story was a participant in the CREST-RESSACA summer program Research Experience for Teachers, in which middle and high school teachers receive hands-on experience with environmental engineering though A&M-Kingsville’s Ph.D. program.

Bill Hennings, chair of the Corpus Christi Air Quality Committee, offered additional input and encouragement for the exhibit.

A working model of the “Real-Time Air Quality Information Dissemination Project” was completed in early 2007, with the finished version scheduled to be ready by mid-May. The lesson plan developed by Story and Coleman will be available on the museum web site at the same time, at www.ccmuseum.com.

“This exhibit can educate the public about air pollutants and what ozone really is,” said John. “Getting an education outreach campaign like this to children is critical, so they can grow up being aware of critical environmental issues and become stewards of the environment that we live in.”
John also noted that with this seventh monitoring station, A&M-Kingsville oversees the largest network of ozone monitors in South Texas. “With the information from these stations, we can see where we can best focus on reducing emissions in the Coastal Bend region.”

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