OES Welcomes Scientists from PSU for Research Project

By Viraj Shankar and Vy Nguyen

Earlier this month, you might have met a few scientists who are going to use the wetlands as a research site. OES has welcomed scientists from PSU to our school to do research on air quality.


OES’ campus will be one in 8 monitoring sites around Portland of a collaborative research project between the US Forest Service and the Portland metropolitan region exploring moss as a toxin indicator. They’ve been tracking pollutants in moss in the Portland area for a few years, and their recent results suggest that the OES campus and area has the lowest levels of heavy metals in the metro area! The setup is going to look similar to a DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) monitoring site.

Typically, they will be on the OES campus once per week over the next 14 months to measure air quality and collect moss from nearby trees.


We got the chance to talk to one of the scientists, Sarah Josen, over the phone.

The group of scientists consists of Sarah Josen, Ross Josenstial and Scott Kiel. They are scientific collaborators and work in the same office.


(From left to right: English teacher Lindsey Zanchettin, Ross Josenstial, Scott Kiel, Henry B., Sarah Josen)


Explaining her research article, Sarah shared how she and her team came up with their project.

“Lots of people have looked at moss and legumes to look at air quality since the 70’s, but these studies have little to do with work in the cities. My job with forest service is using moss and protocols to monitor air quality in forest, we also use published samples as well. However, we have been noticing that funding for air quality studies comes and go. My research partner and I think that if we study people, we should help them understand the true power of method and help them being exposed. So we took traditional forest methods and adapted them to urban circumstances.”

As Sarah pointed out, it is very expensive to measure air quality, and that is a challenge that her group aims to address. “You see, it’s quite heterogeneous how air quality varies over different cities. We are trying to provide a cheap, but effective way to look at air quality so we can map and have a lot more information.” She also stated that a cheaper way to measure air quality will result in her group and many other groups ability to perform more air quality tests. She noted that currently Portland only has air quality maps that consist of one or two monitors. A moss alternative will allow for more raw data, and in turn, more accurate maps of Portland’s air quality.

Sarah also stressed the importance of her and her partners work, explaining that these tests are vital to informing the public about the health and safety risks. She also said releasing air quality data is important in order to find out who or what may be emitting more pollutants than necessary. For example, Sarah explained that in her earlier research, her team discovered a stain glass manufacture that did not filter during their glass-making process and were using cadmium, a toxic metal, for 40 years.

OES will be a research site for the project. The reason is that our school has the cleanest air in the metro area, which makes the school a qualified comparison point for the data collection. “You guys are very lucky,” Sarah noted, “We have sampled over 315 locations across the city, and so far, the moss sites within the vicinity of OES have cleanest air for a city area. We reached out to OES, thinking they may be interested in collaborating and giving us permission to sample moss, and here we are.”

The project is just getting started. Sarah and her team haven’t set up the study site, which is the OES wetlands and the research field behind the dorm, but they plan to do so by the end of the month. Scott will come each week to collect precipitation and use filter to collect pollutants. Once a month, Sarah will collect the moss samples and examine them with her group. Once they gather all data, they will go through a process to track pollutants from samples. They will examine to see how heavy metals, moss and pollutants in different places correlate with each other. The expected outcome is that these items will mirror.

So if you see someone around campus with a white giant air tracking device, don’t call the police about “there is a strange guy at my school who is carrying this weird white giant device that looks like it will suck my soul out”. That is probably Scott, or maybe Sarah or Ross. Come and bid a hi!


(“A giant white air tracking device” that they will use for their research)


Read more about the scientists here and project here.

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