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Many students and teachers are learning about science by visiting the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.

Awards for Berkeley Pit Science Projects Available

Many students and teachers are learning about science by visiting the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.
Many students and teachers are learning about science by visiting the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.

Since 1997, the Berkeley Pit Public Education Committee has given awards, including cash and scholarships, at annual Montana Tech Science & Engineering Fairs to students with projects that explore topics related to the Berkeley Pit.

Are you interested in doing a science project on the Berkeley Pit or a related issue? Would you like to research the Berkeley Pit for a school project?

PitWatch can help. Send an email expressing your interest to info@pitwatch.org and the Berkeley Pit Public Education Committee can help connect you with scientists and technical professionals working on Berkeley Pit issues.

 

Berkeley Pit awards for student science (2013)

Since 1997, the Berkeley Pit Public Education Committee has given awards at annual Montana Tech Science & Engineering Fairs to students with projects that explore topics related to the Berkeley Pit.

At the 2013 fair, five students received awards for Pit-related projects. Brian McGeehan from Butte Central received an award for his project, How Can We Clean Up the Berkeley Pit Water? Jacob Wheeling of Townsend was recognized for his project, To Drink or Not to Drink. Jordan Russell from Whittier Elementary in Butte was given an award for asking Could We Use Berkeley Pit Water to Irrigate Our Lawns? and Kellen Lean from Hillcrest Elementary in Butte was recognized for Contents of H2O.

At the high school level, Chelsea Anderson from Big Sky High School in Missoula earned the Berkeley award with her project, The Feasibility of Purifying Water in Ethiopia Using Low Cost and Easily Accessible Materials.

Many past winners have gone on to pursue careers in science and technology.

Catching up with past Science Fair winners

And announcing our winners for 2009

Since 1997, the Berkeley Pit Education Committee has given awards to area students competing in annual Montana Tech Science and Engineering Fairs who use their projects to explore important topics related to the Berkeley Pit and mine waste cleanup technologies.

At the 2009 fair, three East Middle School students received awards for Pit-related projects: Jessica Robertson for her project on cementation, Katie Metesh for her project on geothermal heating, and Robin Gammons for her project on mining copper from Butte’s groundwater. Many past winners have gone on to pursue careers in science and technology.

Kels Phelps won his first Berkeley Pit awards in 2001 and 2002. Kels went on to win a Berkeley Pit award again in 2006 for his project on the metabolites produced by a microbe growing in the unique environment of Silver Bow Creek.Kels Phelps won his first Berkeley Pit awards in 2001 and 2002. Kels went on to win a Berkeley Pit award again in 2006 for his project on the metabolites produced by a microbe growing in the unique environment of Silver Bow Creek. His research involved isolating a compound produced by the microbe and analyzing its potential for medical applications. Kels was able determine the compound’s molecular structure, and found that it displayed activity in inhibiting enzyme reactions associated with various disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, and cancer metastasis.

A double-major in philosophy and religion at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, Kels is currently completing a semester studying abroad in Trinidad and Tobago. He feels that his experience doing research in the Butte area has served him well.

“The opportunities that I was able to take advantage of, specifically due to the Berkeley Pit and the Upper Clark Fork, provided excellent intellectual stimulation and helped me prepare for college.”

Emily Munday won Berkeley Pit awards in 2000 and 2003 for her projects studying mining’s impact on Silver Bow Creek using aquatic insects as bioindicators of stream health.Emily Munday won Berkeley Pit awards in 2000 and 2003 for her projects studying mining’s impact on Silver Bow Creek using aquatic insects as bioindicators of stream health. She delved deeper into Silver Bow Creek water quality by analyzing parameters such as pH; conductivity; copper concentrations in sediments, insects and water; and nutrient levels.

“I ultimately learned that copper mining has negative impacts on stream health, something that many Buttians know,” Emily stated when asked to reflect on her experience with the science fair. “However, I also learned that after remediation, Silver Bow Creek is recovering and can someday be very similar to what it was historically – before Butte’s mining days. If we continue to care for it, and locate and block or treat ongoing pollution sources like metals runoff from the hill and eutrophication from the waste water treatment plant, Silver Bow Creek will recover and be the trout fishery it once was.”

Emily currently attends Boston University, where she is busy earning a degree in marine science. As part of her studies, she traveled to Belize for a coral reef study. Last summer she interned with the Water Environment Federation at the national headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, helping with the national Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition. This summer, she has a research grant to assess coral reef health in marine protected areas in the Caribbean. She also swims for the BU Terriers, which she describes as her “20-hour per week part-time job.”

“Studying impacted areas in my hometown and learning that there is hope for recovery made me want to use science to protect beautiful places. I am studying marine science because the ocean is an important source of biodiversity, food and oxygen production, and beauty. I want to help people learn about it so we can save it.”

Alexandra Antonioli was a recipient of a Berkeley Pit award in 2002 for her project investigating whether modification of a native Berkeley Pit microbe could be used to enhance the organism’s ability to bind heavy metals. Alexandra Antonioli was a recipient of a Berkeley Pit award in 2002 for her project investigating whether modification of a native Berkeley Pit microbe could be used to enhance the organism’s ability to bind heavy metals. Researchers at Ohio State University had modified an algal strain so that it could bind metals such as cadmium from contaminated soil. Alexandra’s goal was to insert the same gene used to modify the algae into a native Berkeley Pit yeast species. Initial results with the newly modified yeast were promising, but more research is needed to determine the full impact of the organism.

Alexandra graduated from Yale University in 2007 with a B.S. degree in Biophysics and Biochemistry. After graduating she worked full-time as a research assistant in Professor Scott Strobel’s laboratory for two years. Her research investigated an RNA structural motif called the K-turn in the Azoarcus group I intron. This type of advanced research involved structural biochemistry and crystallography.

In August 2009, Alexandra will enter the University of Colorado’s Medical Scientist Training Program where she will earn dual M.D. / Ph.D. degrees. She looks forward to being closer to Montana and is excited for a career in academia as a physician scientist.

“My interest in research started with science fair and the research with the Berkeley Pit. I was fortunate to find mentors like Professor Andrea Stierle and Professor Grant Mitman who encouraged and helped me gain valuable research skills. I think that their excitement about research helped inspire me to study science and continue with research throughout college.”

Today Alexandra considers the Berkeley Pit from a scientific perspective. “As a scientist, I view the Berkeley Pit as a place for exploration and discoveries. Andrea and Don Stierle’s lab has shown that numerous compounds can be isolated from Berkeley Pit waters that have potential antibiotic and anticancer properties. This type of research is extremely challenging because it may take years to isolate, develop, and characterize one compound. However, the rewards of finding a new compound with the drug potential to help thousands of lives are immeasurable.”

To describe her hometown to people in Boston, Emily still refers to the Berkeley Pit with a kind of stubborn pride. “I think that when it is cleaned up, we still need to remember what it looked like so we can use it as an example of how humans can change and destroy a landscape so we don’t make similar environmental mistakes in the future.”

Kels offers a similar view of the Pit, acknowledging the good and the bad. “I think that the Berkeley Pit is the result of some very serious mistakes, and I am a hearty proponent of efforts to contain the damage, and eventually try to restore it, in some way, to some semblance of naturality. I also find it very encouraging to know that, even from such a huge environmental crisis as this, there are positive discoveries that can be made. The compound isolated in my 2006 research doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the potential for novelty that lies in the Berkeley Pit. As long as we have to live with it, we must continue to use it in this way.”

Meet the 2006 Science Fair Award Winners

The Berkeley Pit Education Committee awarded $50 savings bonds to five grade school students and a $250 bond to one high school student who competed in the 2006 Montana Tech Science and Engineering Fair. Each of their Fair projects (see below) explored important topics related to the Berkeley Pit and mine waste cleanup technologies. Congratulations to everyone who competed in the Fair, and keep up the good work! Remember, the Committee will offer awards again at the 2007 Science Fair, and students are encouraged to choose projects related to the Pit and mine waste cleanup for next year’s competition.

Kels Phelps Senior, Butte High School  Using Cysteinyl Aspartate-Specific Protease 1 and Matrix Metalloproteinase 3 as Vehicles for Tracking Activity and Isolating Medicinal Compounds from Extremophilic Trichoderma Virens Found in the Silver Bow Creek SystemKels Phelps
Senior, Butte High School
Using Cysteinyl Aspartate-Specific Protease 1 and Matrix Metalloproteinase 3 as Vehicles for Tracking Activity and Isolating Medicinal Compounds from Extremophilic Trichoderma Virens Found in the Silver Bow Creek System

 

 

Randi Phelps 8th grade, East Middle School  Is there an Antibiotic Lurking in the Berkeley Pit? Phase IIIRandi Phelps
8th grade, East Middle School
Is there an Antibiotic Lurking in the Berkeley Pit? Phase III

 

 

 

Robert Siler 7th grade, Ramsey School  The Loading of Zinc into High Ore CreekRobert Siler
7th grade, Ramsey School
The Loading of Zinc into High Ore Creek

 

 

 

Molly O'Brien 6th grade, West Elementary School  Spreading Metals?Molly O’Brien
6th grade, West Elementary School
Spreading Metals?

 

 

 

Malea Dunne and Dana Anderson 6th grade, Fred Moodry Middle School (Anaconda)  Extracting Copper From WaterMalea Dunne and Dana Anderson 6th grade, Fred Moodry Middle School (Anaconda)  Extracting Copper From WaterMalea Dunne and Dana Anderson
6th grade, Fred Moodry Middle School (Anaconda)
Extracting Copper From Water

 

 

 

(Note: There were no 5th grade projects about the Berkeley Pit this year so we awarded two for 6th grade.)

Meet the 2005 Science Fair Award Winners

Each year the Berkeley Pit Public Education Committee awards $50 savings bonds to grade-school students and a $250 savings bond to one high school student who compete in the Montana Tech Science and Engineering Fair. To qualify for the awards, the science fair project must explore a topic related to the Berkeley Pit or a mine waste cleanup technology.

Sam Kuglitsch 5th grade, Kennedy Elementary  "Plant Growth Effects from Environmental Factors"Sam Kuglitsch
5th grade, Kennedy Elementary
“Plant Growth Effects from Environmental Factors”

 

Randi Phelps 7th grade, East Middle School "Is There a New Antibiotic in the Pit?"Randi Phelps
7th grade, East Middle School
“Is There a New Antibiotic in the Pit?”

 

John Metesh 8th grade, East Middle School, Butte "To leave or not to leave; what difference will it make if we remove the (Parrot) tailings?"John Metesh
8th grade, East Middle School, Butte
“To leave or not to leave; what difference will it make if we remove the (Parrot) tailings?”

Butte Students Explore Pit Clean Up, Win National Awards

Two Butte students – Alexandra Antonioli and Kels Phelps – have taken their school science projects to the highest levels of success. After claiming local awards from the Pit Committee, their impressive work has earned national awards and scholarships for their continuing education.

Alexandra, a Butte High senior, has spent most of her educational career working on science fair projects relating to solutions and issues regarding the Berkeley Pit. When she’s not swimming and playing piano, she’s working on her main project titled, “An Investigation of the Remediation of Berkeley Pit Water Using Genetically Modified Extremophilic Yeast”. Although it’s quite complicated, Alexandra’s simplified explanation is the project deals with evaluating microorganisms and their ability to sequester the complex mineral compounds contained within the water. The end result is the potential detoxification of Pit water. For her work, Alexandra has received a full scholarship ($78,000) to Drexel University for microbiology, as well as numerous other honors, including awards from the Navy, the University of Montana and Montana Tech.

Kels, a Butte High freshman, has also concentrated on microbiology and the Berkeley Pit for his science fair project. The project, “Do Microbes Growing in Unique Ecological Niches Contain Compounds with Redeemable Medicinal Value,” was one of 40 finalists (out of 60,000 nominations) in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge in Washington, D.C. in October 2002. At this national competition, Kels won a special award for leadership, a physics award, and a scholarship to attend an aviation camp in Wisconsin next summer. Kels says his project was looking for a possible medicine from a fungus that grows in the Berkeley Pit. Tested for its ability to fight cancer and five types of infections, it was discovered that this fungus was a possible anti-cancer agent and lethal to Staphylococcus aureus.

Others Butte students are encouraged to develop projects related to mining or the Berkeley Pit for the 2003 Science Fair next spring at Montana Tech.

Meet Our Science Fair Winners
 (2000)

PitWatch Issue Volume 5, Number 1

The Committee awarded $50 savings bonds to each of these grade school students and a $250 savings bond to the high school winner. Their science fair projects all explored important topics related to the Berkeley Pit. Congratulations, and keep up the good work! The Committee will offer awards again at the 2001 Science Fair, and students are encouraged to choose projects related to the Pit for next year’s competition.

Emily Munday 5th grade, Kennedy Elementary Food for Trout: a comparative benthic invertebrate surveyEmily Munday
5th grade, Kennedy Elementary
Food for Trout: a comparative benthic invertebrate survey

Tim Obstar 6th grade, Hillcrest Elementary We Otter Clean the WaterTim Obstar
6th grade, Hillcrest Elementary
We Otter Clean the Water

Charlie Larson 7th grade, East Middle School How Much Sludge is in the Pit Water?Charlie Larson
7th grade, East Middle School
How Much Sludge is in the Pit Water?

Donna Driggers 8th grade, East Middle School What are the Effects of the Berkeley Pit Water on Plant Life?Donna Driggers
8th grade, East Middle School
What are the Effects of the Berkeley Pit Water on Plant Life?

Brian Wheeler 11th Grade, Butte Central High School Effectiveness of Berkeley Pit Water Remediation Methods: Lime Precipitation, Reverse Osmosis, Copper CementationBrian Wheeler
11th Grade, Butte Central High School
Effectiveness of Berkeley Pit Water Remediation Methods: Lime Precipitation, Reverse Osmosis, Copper Cementation

Meet Our Science Fair Winners (1997)

The Committee awarded $50 savings bonds to each of these students. Their science fair projects all explored important topics related to the Berkeley Pit. Congratulations, and keep up the good work! In fact, the Committee intends to offer awards again at the 1998 Science Fair, and students are encouraged to choose projects related to the Pit for next year’s competition.

 Joe Metesh 4th grade, Kennedy Elementary What Makes Acid in the Berkeley Pit?Joe Metesh
4th grade, Kennedy Elementary
What Makes Acid in the Berkeley Pit?

 film Forrest Gump trailer

 film Forrest Gump trailer

Becky Patton 5th grade, Longfellow Elementary Can You Cleanse Polluted Water by Boiling or Freezing?

Becky Patton
5th grade, Longfellow Elementary
Can You Cleanse Polluted Water by Boiling or Freezing?

 film Forrest Gump trailer

 film Forrest Gump trailer

Jamie Rozan 6th grade, Longfellow Elementary Taking Minerals out of Pit WaterJamie Rozan
6th grade, Longfellow Elementary
Taking Minerals out of Pit Water

 film Forrest Gump trailer

 film Forrest Gump trailer

Alec Macgregor 7th grade, East Middle School The Effects of Lime Addition into the Warm Springs Ponds SystemsAlec Macgregor
7th grade, East Middle School
The Effects of Lime Addition into the Warm Springs Ponds Systems

 film Forrest Gump trailer

 film Forrest Gump trailer

Brian Wheeler 8th grade, Ramsay School Remediation of Berkeley Pit Water using Chemical Adjustment of pH LevelsBrian Wheeler
8th grade, Ramsay School
Remediation of Berkeley Pit Water using Chemical Adjustment of pH Levels