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Nevada 4-H conducts carbon footprint experiment

Posted 10/7/2010

4-H Ambassadors Anna and Kayla blowing bubbles in a cup of water.

UNR demonstration part of simultaneous, nationwide event

To the casual observer, they might have appeared to be a group of unruly children.

But those kids, who were running laps around the second floor rotunda of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at the University of Nevada, Reno Wednesday while parents, teachers and dignitaries chatted, were actually conducting a science experiment.

The event was part of 4-H National Youth Science Day, and the running children were attempting to show how heightened levels of carbon dioxide can affect water quality and climate change. They were from the Davidson Academy for gifted students, and they were working with two 4-H ambassadors and two University of Nevada Cooperative Extension faculty members who were demonstrating how the experiment worked.

After several laps, Cooperative Extension water quality specialist Sue Donaldson called hard-breathing students over to a table and had them blow through straws into water glasses tinted blue with a special dye. The carbon dioxide in their breath quickly reacted with the water to turn it from blue to yellow. The exercise illustrated carbon dioxide has an effect not only on our atmosphere but also on our water.

Davidson Academy students blowing bubbles in a cup of water.

"You are the ones who will live in the world and be asked to make the tough choices about making it the kind of world we all want to live in," Donaldson told the students during a discussion on carbon dioxide and climate change. "It all comes back to you."

4-H National Youth Science Day is a 3-year-old program that works to spark an interest among youth in science and science careers. More than 5 million youth across the U.S. participate in 4-H science, engineering, technology and applied math in yearlong programs.

The Knowledge Center experiment was one of dozens conducted Wednesday around Nevada at various 4-H after-school programs and club meetings from Las Vegas to Reno and many small towns in between. All told, hundreds of thousands of 4-H’ers across the country were expected to conduct similar experiments as part of 4-H National Youth Science Day.

"It’s exciting to see so many young people taking an interest in science," Provost Marc Johnson told the Knowledge Center audience prior to the experiment. "What you are doing today will set the stage for finding even more answers to scientific questions tomorrow."

This year’s experiment, called "4-H20," taught the students how increased amounts of carbon dioxide can affect aquatic animals, plants and other living organisms in lakes, streams, rivers and oceans. The experiment used workbooks and online guides to help participants in 4-H National Youth Science Day to measure a carbon footprint and estimate energy savings by examining gas and electric bills.

“Engaging youth early in scientific exploration has been shown to spark a lasting interest in the sciences,” said University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Dean and Director Karen Hinton. “Science can often seem intimidating to young people, but 4-H National Youth Science Day makes science fun, real and accessible. Kids will learn about cutting-edge technologies and then take the next step to lead by applying what they’ve learned in their very own community.”

The National Youth Science Day is part of the 4-H organization’s goal of engaging 1 million new young people in science, engineering and technology programs by the year 2013. The One Million New Scientists, One Million New Ideas campaign seeks to battle a national shortage of youth pursuing science college majors and careers.

“These experiments are a great way to learn about science and the methods scientists use to make discoveries,” said Anna Baumann, a North Valleys High student who participated in this year’s experiment as well as last year’s 4-H National Youth Science Day experiment. During the 2009 experiment, she and other 4-H’ers learned how cellulose and sugars in plants — such as corn, switchgrass, sorghum and algae — can be converted into fuel.

The national experiment is another example of 4-H’s positive impact on youth. Youth development scholar Dr. Richard Lerner, who works with researchers at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University, has found that, when compared to other youth, young people involved in 4-H are:

  • Nearly two times more likely to get better grades in school;
  • Nearly two times more likely to plan to go to college;
  • 41 percent less likely to engage in risky behaviors; and
  • 25 percent more likely to positively contribute to their families and communities.

As part of the Cooperative Extension System of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and implemented by the nation’s 109 land-grant colleges and universities, 4-H has been educating youth in the sciences for more than 100 years. In fact, the land-grant colleges and universities have been deeply involved in climate change research for some time and will showcase their work to inspire youth on 4-H National Youth Science Day.

4-H’s robust, university research-based science curriculum, combined with new initiatives like 4-H National Youth Science Day, will arm youth with the necessary technical skills to help America maintain its competitive edge in the global marketplace.

About 4-H

4-H is a community of 6 million young people across America learning leadership, citizenship, and life skills. National 4-H Council is the private sector, non-profit partner of 4-H National Headquarters located at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within USDA. 4-H programs are implemented by the 109 land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension System through their 3,100 local Extension offices across the country. Learn more about 4-H at or find us on Facebook.

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