Edmonds College students Bandhna Bedi, Elizabeth Morales and Miia Sula presented their research on the environmental consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic at a virtual conference on April 28. The annual Posters on the Hill conference is sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research and is usually held on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
The event allows students to present their work to members of Congress, congressional staff members, and federal government officials. The EC team’s project was one of 60 chosen this year from more than 200 applications across the country.
“Being a presenter at Posters on the Hill and having published work before graduating from Edmonds was something I never thought I would do.” said Morales, who is pursuing an associate’s degree in chemical engineering and will transfer to the University of Washington this fall to study environmental engineering. “Completing a project like this encourages me to continue asking tough questions and challenging myself even when I think I’m not as experienced for the task.”
The EC team’s project examined how the COVID-19 shutdown affected air pollution in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, New York City, and Rochester, New York. Pollution levels varied by population density, but all locations saw similar trends during the pandemic: a significant drop in nitrogen dioxide and a slight, surprising rise in carbon dioxide. Nitrogen dioxide is known for causing respiratory illnesses and acid rain, which causes deforestation and acidifies waterways. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. The students speculated that the rise in carbon dioxide may be attributed to increased electricity usage as people’s daily life, work, and school moved online.
“What our team has accomplished can be done by anyone, as seen by the diversity in our own team,” said Bedi, who is earning an associate’s degree in computer science and will study informatics at the University of Washington in the fall. “Even though we’re not all environmental majors, we all had skills to contribute to the project.”
In the two weeks following the conference, the team met with the offices of Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Reps. Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen and Pramila Jayapal. Conversations centered on the team’s research as well as the importance of supporting higher education.
“Aides we spoke to were eager to learn about the experience of being a student during the pandemic, and they invited us to stay in touch,” said Sula, who is licensed to practice patent law in Finland and is currently working towards getting qualified to practice law in the U.S.
The team says that both Washington and New York would benefit from additional monitoring sites in rural, suburban, and low-income areas. Because the current systems mostly capture data near cities, they do not tell the full story of pollution trends.
“A lot of the challenges the team faced revolved around finding complete, reliable data sources,” said EC Physics instructor Rachel Wade, who mentored the students. “Often there would be missing months — or years — of data. It was a labor of love in many ways.”
To learn more about the student researchers, visit their profiles on the Council on Undergraduate Research website.