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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 22, 2008

Photo: UHL Student Grant recipient Rachel Schnebbe watches Shea McDowell, UHL chemist, prepare a water sample for radon testing.

Williamsburg eighth-grader receives Hygienic Laboratory grant

Rachel Schnebbe, an eighth-grade student at Williamsburg Junior/Senior High School in Williamsburg, Iowa, is the first recipient of the University Hygienic Laboratory Student Grant for the 2007-2008 school year.

The Student Grant program provides laboratory expertise and mentoring for junior high and senior high school students to assist them in completion of science projects.

Rachel's project is part of an extracurricular activity that will be included in her school's upcoming science fair. She is comparing the level of radon in water collected from five locations in and around her hometown of Williamsburg. Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that causes an estimated 399 deaths from lung cancer in Iowa each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Beginning this month, the UHL is supporting Rachel's efforts to measure the level of radon in water by providing testing at the lab. The young scientist is working with staff from the UHL radiochemistry section for a close-up view of the procedures and to gain insight into laboratory science.

"When students craft and carry out their own science projects, it creates an ownership and sparks an interest that often leads to continued study in the field of science," said Beth Hochstedler, UHL training and outreach coordinator. "We know that this approach works to develop future public health professionals. A former Student Grant recipient tells us that because of her projects and the experience at UHL, she continued her study of science. She is now working with the UI Department of Ophthalmology."

After collecting water samples, Rachel will assist in preparing them for analysis in the lab and learn about the quality-control criteria followed for the testing method. Her objective is to determine if radon levels in the sampled homes are below the EPA recommendations for health protection.

"This program is important because public health and the field of radiochemistry are in severe need of growth in our workforce," explained Marinea Mehrhoff, UHL supervisor of radiochemistry and Rachel's UHL mentor. "One of the reasons I participate in the Student Grant program is to develop students' understanding of how to apply science as a career other than in your typical medical situation. Students get to see something else they can do in this field."

The UHL has offered the Student Grant program since 2000. Former projects include "Root Absorption on Atrazine Contaminated Pond Water," "Don't Forget to Wash Your Bathroom Faucet Knob" and "How Clean is Your Toothbrush?"

"The UHL staff members who serve as mentors for the Student Grant program deserve a special thank-you," Hochstedler added. "They carve out time for these outreach activities because they see the excitement these projects generate."

The University Hygienic Laboratory is the state of Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory, with facilities located on the UI's Oakdale Campus in Iowa City and at the Iowa Lab Facilities in Ankeny, a Des Moines suburb. The UHL performs analyses on samples from virtually all matrices, including human clinical specimens, air, drinking water, wastewater, soil, sediment, industrial effluents, oil and fish. In addition to performing analyses by specified methods, the UHL provides methods development and procedure verification for non-routine analyses. Additional information about the UHL, its programs and services is available online at

STORY SOURCE:  University Hygienic Laboratory, 102 Oakdale Campus, H101 OH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-5002

MEDIA CONTACT: Pat Blake, 319-335-4177,