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Release: March 14, 2001

University Hygienic Laboratory offers learning opportunities to students of all ages

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL), in an effort to increase awareness of environmental and public health issues, offers a number of outreach programs for students from kindergarten through college.

Located on the University of Iowa Oakdale Research Campus, the UHL is Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory. The UHL provides a host of services, including diagnostic and epidemiologic services in the areas of microbiology, immunology, virology and molecular biology, as well as testing of drinking and recreational waters and various analyses for the detection of contaminants in the environment.

The UHL's work also includes community outreach and education to inform the community about environmental and public health issues.

"As a state agency, part of our mission is to reach out to the public and get them involved," said Lorelei Kurimski, UHL coordinator of external programs. This outreach especially includes students, and the UHL has programs to reach Iowa's younger residents.

One program, offered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, includes educational outreach presentations. UHL staff deliver presentations to classrooms or large groups of students to teach them both in the classroom and in the field. For example, UHL limnologists take a "bugs road show" to students where they discuss and provide examples of insects and fish collected in Iowa streams. When UHL limnologist Todd Hubbard visited first and second-graders at Horace Mann Elementary School in Iowa City last January, he brought a number of specimens from Iowa rivers and streams. The class was studying pond life in the middle of winter and was unable to collect specimens or take a field trip outdoors.

"This program was great because they brought the actual items to us," said teacher Anita Kerr. "I thought they were very well-prepared, very knowledgeable and answered all the students' questions." Kerr's students were able to observe specimens both in vials and on slides under a microscope, and they made sketches of what they saw. Students also were introduced to the backpack electroshocker used to collect stream fish.

"The kids got to do a lot of hands-on stuff and they were very active during the entire presentation," Kerr said.

For older students, UHL staff may conduct a field trip to a local stream or pond as part of the program so the students can collect their own samples. All demonstrations are tailored to the students' grade levels and teachers' lesson plans.

"Our laboratory staff are really good about coming in at the level that is needed," said Lynn Hudachek, UHL coordinator of external affairs. "It's a good way to introduce students to the topics in a way they understand." Classroom outreach is available in all areas within the UHL.

The UHL also offers a grants program for educational projects to assist junior high and high school students with financial and technical aspects of science projects. An average award of $250 per project is available for projects that meet program requirements. Funds are limited, so applications are reviewed on a first-come basis. The awards are not competitive but based on the merit of the project.

The UHL also offers opportunities to students pursuing higher education in a field related to the environment or public health. The Environmental Student Internship Program (ESIP) is tailored to meet a college student's personal career goals and gives them an opportunity to receive hands-on experience in a working laboratory. The UHL offers the internships for summer only or for the entire year. Participating students are given an introduction to all aspects of laboratory operation and then may improve their skills in one or two specialized sections.

"The students and teachers who participate in our public outreach programs take what they have learned back to their families, and share what is going on not just in their community, but across the entire state," Kurimski said. "They understand that protecting our environment begins with the actions of a single person, and there are opportunities for each of them to play an active role."

For more information about the UHL or any of its outreach programs, please visit their Web site at

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.