Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2008-12-03

Sections of Five Mile Creek in north metro Birmingham became familiar territory to a group of Samford University senior biology majors this fall.

The students used the creek as the basis for their senior projects, employing research skills to obtain information that they hope will be helpful to area environmentalists and officials.

About two dozen students paired in two-person teams to select a project, conduct the research and prepare visual and oral presentations that were made Tuesday, Dec. 2.

All projects related to the biological and environmental health of Five Mile Creek, a 28-mile waterway that flows through 9 cities and 14 communities in Jefferson County.

Partners Madeleine Mula and Lee Ross studied how common duckweed might be a natural filter to contain excess aluminum, iron and zinc found in Black Creek, a major tributary to Five Mile Creek.

In early October, the pair took water samples from three sites: upstream, midpoint and downstream. Back at their Samford lab, they recreated the samples in beakers, to which they introduced 25 species of duckweed.

The finding was that the flowering aquatic plant does a good "uptake" of the unwanted ions. The downside is that the plant, although easily available and plentiful, is highly invasive. Maybe too invasive, the student researchers admit.

They and other teams will share their findings with Five-Mile Creek Greenway Partnership coordinator Francesca Gross, who suggested many of the topics the teams researched.

Using Five Mile Creek as the venue for the student research "was a good Samford-community project," said biology professor Dr. Betsy Dobbins, who co-taught the senior seminar with Dr. Kristin Bakkegard.

"North Birmingham has been under-investigated," said Dobbins, noting that the Five Mile Creek area poses an abundance of interesting biological problems.

The area has light industry, heavy industry, land fill and abandoned coal mines, all of which can impact water.

"It is an excellent learning laboratory," she said of the beleaguered creek. "Everyone is interested in water quality, but there are never enough people to do adequate investigation."

Gross, who was on hand Tuesday as the students displayed and explained their findings, agreed.

"It is a good, real world example for students to be able to study a stream that has such a variety of problems," said Gross.

In addition to Mula and Ross, senior presenters included Mallory Barnes, Kelly Burns, Tamara Cleveland, Haley David, Meredith Denney, Sarah Fort, Emmie Fulgham, Kylie Harmon, Scottie Jackson, Matt Kemp, Stephanie Larson, Laura Matthews, Jenee McBee, Luke Przekwas, Louis-Daniel Rojas, Harry Rowland, Ryan Russell, Joshua Senn, Maggie Spears, Taylor Stroud, Mallory Tyler and Mary Scott Wood.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.