02 Enviro Rsrch

Environmental Research 
Acid Rain
This event is limited to the first 15 entries

Objective & Background

When polluting gases from man-made as well as natural sources are emitted into the atmosphere, acid rain can be the result.  A product of a variety of chemical reactions, acid rain adversely impacts environmental ecosystems, human health and many of the materials we use in our daily lives.  This research project focuses on how acid rain alters the geochemistry linking abiotic factors with living systems. 

Acid rain can affect living systems simply by direct contact.  But a more intriguing and complicated geochemical question asks how the changing acidity impacts the basis of most living systems, the soil. A mixture of both inorganic and organic components, soil is critical for many living systems.  The make-up of soil strata varies greatly from one region to another.  Therefore, the impact of acid rain on living systems may vary greatly as well, when such topics as soil buffer capacity, cation exchange potential and ion mobilization are explored.  Ultimately, the biogeochemical processes in our living soils impacts the life that depends on it.

The objective of this research event is to learn about biogeochemical processes associated with changing soil chemistry associated with acid rain.  Students will identify a specific case study related to the consequences of acid rain on a living system or biotic component.  From this case study and basic understanding of soil chemistry, students will design and execute an authentic research project that investigates a scientific question.  


Part I  Conduct background research about acid rain that should include but is not limited to the following:
  • How acid rain is formed and what makes it different from “normal” rain.
  • The effects of acid rain specifically in terms of investigating the changing geochemistry of soil strata in terrestrial ecosystems.
  • Specific examples that demonstrate how the changing chemistry caused by acid rain can impact living systems.

 Part 2  Identify a specific case study that exemplifies how acid rain impacts a living system by altering the geochemistry of that ecosystem.  Conduct an authentic investigation around ONE question prompted from the identified case study that will be completed in the lab: 

  • The investigation must explore the changing chemistry of a system.
  • Students must demonstrate good use of the scientific method during investigative process.    
  • Students must identify and explain their assumptions associated with their experimental design.  These assumptions ultimately limit the extrapolation of findings of a laboratory experiment to a natural ecosystem.

Safety Note
All laboratory work should follow appropriate safety instructions and be supervised by instructor or coach.

Part 3  Report student understandings/findings.

  • A research paper is written that includes information addressing the following:
  1. Demonstrates understandings and information from Part 1.
  2. A summary of the cited case study identified.  (Review techniques of how to write a summary to avoid plagiarism) 
  3. Research question and abstract of the scientific investigation performed in Part 2.  Controlled variables, experiment control(s) and assumptions of experimental design should be addressed.
  4. Experimental methods used in Part 2 should be included as an Appendix to the research paper.  (Note: No data is required as part of the submittal for this year's research paper - Students must present their data the day of the NJCO event in support of their conclusions)
  5. All reference material should be properly cited and citations should have credibility
    • A 6 minute presentation with descriptive poster (or Powerpoint, if you choose) will occur on the morning of the Chemistry Olympics. (6 minutes max: 3 minute presentation + 3 minutes Q&A) - This presentation should focus solely on the scientific investigation performed in Part 2 and only highlight the students' understanding of the topic and its' chemistry.   Students must elaborate on how they properly employed the scientific method to answer their research question(s).  Specific laboratory data collected should presented to the judges in a graphical manner.  Conclusions from experimentation should be clearly supported by the data provided.  Students are encouraged to include statistical error analysis of data. 


    • This events must be completed by a team of 2 or 3 students.
    • All sources of information must be identified clearly (written sources as well as a list of people who provided assistance)
    • All research papers must be built upon information acquired from a minimum of 3 PRIMARY SOURCES.  Although Internet sources may also be utilized in addition to the primary sources judges will be looking at how students select and use information gathered from primary sources.  Examples of primary sources include articles found in peer-reviewed professional journals such as Nature, Science and Journal of Chemical Education.  Peer-reviewed professional journals are available at post-secondary academic libraries.  Peer-reviewed journals that are accessed online are acceptable.  Magazines such as Discover, Science News, Popular Science and Scientific American, although informatory are not peer-reviewed professional journals. You are required to submit photocopies of the first three pages of each primary source used in your paper.
    • Any conclusions you form must be based upon your own experimental data from experiments you conduct at your own high school facility.  Commercial assistance is not permitted.
    • Your written report may not exceed ten pages - 12 pt., double spaced plus a 2-Part Appendix (see below) 
    • Include a cover page that indicates the title of the paper, authors, school, team A or B (if applicable)
    • The Appendix must include: 

      Part 1: up to 5 pages 

      • Experimental procedure(s) utilized for Part 2  
      • Complete listing of references used in your research (written sources as well as a list of people who provided assistance)

      Part 2 (minimum 3 pages)

      • Photocopies of the first page of the primary source articles used in your research -- excluding the Abstract.
      • Abstract in lieu of article are not acceptable.
    • Prepare either a freestanding poster (maximum 1 x 1-m) or a Power Point presentation that summarizes your research.  Presentations must reflect the information and data presented in the written report.  Schools must supply their own computers, LCD projectors and/or overhead projectors.  A screen will be made available.
    • The written paper and poster/Power Point must adhere to the ACS Style Guide.
    • Be prepared to make a 6-minute oral presentation, one-on-one with the judges (6 minutes max: 3 minute presentation + 3 minutes Q&A).
    • Four (4) copies of the complete report (plus DVD/CD, if applicable) must be received by the Director of the NJCO by the deadline indicated in the Competition Guidelines. The reports must be clearly labeled with the school name.  If applicable, also indicate, team A or B.
    • In addition to submitting 4 paper copies of each research paper, teams are also required to submit their papers to turnitin.com for review.  All submissions must be in the form of a single file in MS-Word format.
    • Bring one extra copy of your report the day of the event.
    • A team may be disqualified, if they are not ready to start at the scheduled time of their presentation.

    Judging Criteria

    Written report 40% total

      • Understanding, 15%
      • Accuracy of technical component(s), 15%
      • Depth of chemistry background, 10%
    Presentation, 60% total
      • Description of methods and presentation of data, 20%
      • Understanding of chemical applications and support of conclusions, 20%
      • Presentation quality, 10%
      • Answers to questions, 10%

    Team Identification

    It is crucial to identify all submissions with the information below, to prevent mix-up.  In particular, schools with multiple teams must clearly differentiate between team A and B

    Each submission (research reports, CDs, DVD, reports, etc) must include the following 4 items:

    1. Name of school
    2. Team A or B designation, if applicable
    3. Names of students (clearly printed legibly)
    4. Name of coach

    Event designed by Natalie Macke, NJCO Co-Director

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