“Scientifically, nothing really surprises us anymore,” Dr. Darren Brouwer, associate professor of chemistry, wryly observes. “But I think the average citizen would probably be quite taken aback at some of the measurements we made indicating sewage contamination in our waterways.” He and Dr. Edward Berkelaar, professor of chemistry & environmental studies, have been working with Redeemer students over the last few years to analyse water contamination in the Hamilton area.
As winners of the Redeemer Centre for Christian Scholarship’s 2016-17 Zylstra Grants competition for the second year in a row, Berkelaar and Brouwer will continue monitoring various streams within the Spencer Creek and Chedoke Creek watersheds that flow into Cootes Paradise. Cootes is the Royal Botanical Garden’s largest and most biologically diverse ecological preserve, an idyllic retreat in the heart of Hamilton.
Cootes Paradise also happens to be fed by 16 urban creeks. Heavy inputs of road salts, excess nutrients from fertilizers, and sewage run-off all trickle into those creeks before flowing downstream to pollute this valuable wetland. Cootes Paradise has been the focus of a decades-long rehabilitation project through the Royal Botanical Gardens and other community organizations. Through the leadership of Berkelaar and Brouwer, Redeemer and its students now play a part in restoring this habitat.
Not surprisingly for Redeemer faculty, Berkelaar and Brouwer’s research has its roots in the classroom. Brouwer was looking for a way to increase student engagement in his analytical chemistry class when a friend showed him an article about problems in the Chedoke Creek watershed. Students got out of the classroom and into the thick of hands-on research and environmental activism, presenting the findings of their water quality analysis projects to local stakeholders, media, and even City Hall officials.
“I hope that our work signals to our community that we are very capable of carrying out rigorous and creative research.”
The potential of this research to shape public policy was evident. Berkelaar’s expertise in trace element analysis made him a perfect partner for a larger research project and—through the Zylstra Grants—Berkelaar and Brouwer have been able to systematically carry out widespread water analyses over a longer period of time. Working with student researchers, they are building an important body of data.
This project epitomizes the purpose of the Zylstra grants: to enable Redeemer faculty to produce original scholarship that has important public impact.
“I hope that our work signals to our community that we are very capable of carrying out rigorous and creative research, but also that we share their concerns of the health of our streams and ecosystems, even though we may be motivated for different reasons,” concludes Brouwer. “We can witness to our calling to care for God’s creation, and even draw people into conversation.”