RPA High School science students hit the streets

Last week, students in high school instructor Amy Herauf’s AP Environmental Science class took a short tour of the downtown Redmond corridor to survey the effects of urbanization/development on the environment and identified some ways in which a city can reduce its environmental impact during development.

One of the biggest ideas they focused on was the effectiveness of adding trees and plants, think more “green spaces.”

For such an easy and cost-effective change, adding more vegetation has huge positive returns. It helps keep buildings cool (less AC/energy needed), reduces carbon emissions by capturing carbon, produces more oxygen, helps reduce soil erosion, helps reduce flooding/runoff and adds a lovely aesthetic. It has both environmental and economic benefits. In addition to identifying places where they could add more of these green spaces, they discussed ways in which a city or downtown corridor can be restructured so that it is more pedestrian and bike-friendly.

In Instructor John Hughes physics class, students recently visited the Glacier building staircases to measure and calculate the amount of work, energy, and power needed for them to climb stairs. The simple experiment served as a basis for quantitatively realizing these abstract ideas that are foundational to understanding more complex phenomena.

Taking their weight and the height of the staircase allowed them to calculate the amount of work done to climb the staircase. In other words, the amount of gravitational potential energy they gain.

By timing several trials for how long it takes them to climb the staircase at different speeds, they calculated the power generated, which is the rate at which work is done. Then they compared that power to a fairly familiar reference, a 60 W lightbulb, to see how many lightbulbs they could potentially light if they were to harness that power and use it in a way other than to climb the stairs. Many students found that they could power a few lightbulbs just with the energy they used to climb the stairs.

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