Physics teacher at the Bueng Khong Long Wittaya School
Mrs. Sutthirut Srisongkram is a teacher of physics at the Bueng Khong Long Wittaya School, in the Bueng Kan province of northeast Thailand. To the east across the Mekong River is the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR).
Mrs. Srisongkram's students were concerned about the water quality of the local Bueng Khong Long wetland because of the extensive use of chemical fertilizers for agriculture - mainly on rice farms and rubber plantations - in the area.
They suspected that chemical run-off from the fields might be upsetting the natural ecological balance of Bueng Khong Long Lake and the surrounding wetland, and impacting the aquatic animals and plants that live there. The students decided to test this hypothesis by using GLOBE hydrology protocols to collect data about the water quality of the wetland. They decided to focus on the common pitcher plant (Neppenthes sp.) that grows wild in the wetlands near Bueng Khong Long.
The pitcher plant is one of the most amazing plants in nature. This pretty plant is a meat-eater! Its furled leaves form jug or pitcher-shaped cavities that contain the plant's sweet-smelling but deadly juice. Insects are attracted to the scent but then fall prey to the sticky liquid, which contains enzymes that are similar to those found in our stomachs. The plants slowly dissolve and digest their insect meals.
The plant evolved because eating small insects could give it the proteins, nitrogen and other minerals it needed but couldn't obtain from the soil. Pitcher plants prefer acidic soil and water without dissolved ions, such as rainwater.
The students were aware of the abundant use of nitrogen-rich chemical fertilizers in local agriculture. Could they find a correlation between the amount of nitrates in the water that feeds the plants and the number of pitchers that grew on each plant?
Their research method was to test for the concentration of nitrates (from 0.05 to 0.25mg/l) in the water, and then to count the number of pitchers on a number of plants growing in areas of the wetlands with varying amounts of nitrate concentrations. The results of their study demonstrated that nitrates in the water did seem to impact the growth of the pitchers. They found that the greater the concentration of nitrates, the fewer the pitchers on each plant. The students concluded that the number of pitchers could be an indicator of water quality at Bueng Khong Long.
The Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST) of the Ministry of Education in Thailand, coordinating organization of The GLOBE Program in Thailand, learned about the research that the students were doing. IPST supported their travel to the 2nd GLOBE Student Research Exhibition in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA, in August 2013 to present their research to the GLOBE community, where they won second place for their project.
Mrs. Sutthirut Srisongkram spoke enthusiastically of the opportunity her students were afforded through participation in the GLOBE Student Research Expedition. "This was their first chance to join in a great competition and was their first time to travel to the United States. There they could exchange their knowledge with students from many GLOBE countries and learned so many new GLOBE activities." Mrs. Parichat Puangmanee, Assistant Country Coordinator for Thailand, who accompanied the students to the USA said, "They were very happy. They gained confidence and a good attitude in learning science."
When asked if any of these students anticipate a career in science, Mrs. Srisongkram emphatically states, "Every one of them wants to be a scientist!" Participation in the GLOBE Program provides students the opportunity to be scientists while still in school.
Shown in photo, from left to right: Ms. Parichat Puangmanee (Assistant Country Coordinator for Thailand at IPST), whose assistance with this article was greatly appreciated, students Aitsaraphap Ouammak and Kittisak Kottarin, and GLOBE teacher Mrs. Sutthirut Srisongkram.