posted May 5, 2005

Graham Peaslee Receives Macatawa Watershed Award

 Dr. Graham Peaslee of the Hope College faculty has received the 2005 "Stakeholder of the Year" award from the Macatawa Watershed Project for his active involvement in improving water quality and educating the community about the Macatawa Watershed.

Peaslee received the recognition on Wednesday, May 4, during the Macatawa Watershed Project's annual stakeholder meeting, held at the college's Haworth Inn and Conference Center. A citation presented during the event noted that "This year's recipient ties together funding, technical skills and education, and adds scientific research into our efforts to improve water quality of the Macatawa Watershed."

Peaslee, who is an associate professor of chemistry and geology/environmental science, began conducting research focused on the watershed in the late 1990s. He saw a way to combine his background in chemistry and his teaching at the college--which includes involving students in research projects--with service to the community and concern for the environment.

"It's something you want to do, and it's good for the community," he said. "It also seemed like a natural extension to the applications I was already developing," Peaslee said. "And it has been a good opportunity for my students because it's local. It's tangible, and they can go out and get their feet wet." Peaslee, whose training is in nuclear chemistry, started his work with the Macatawa Watershed Project by using the college's particle accelerator to analyze metals found in the sediment of Lake Macatawa, work conducted in cooperation with researchers at Grand Valley State University.

His involvement has grown in the years since.

Now, for example, he is leading an effort to help area high schools integrate research on the watershed into their own curriculum. "Hope College is going to help coordinate, but the schools themselves are developing the curricula and are passing information back and forth," he said. Last summer, Holland High School teacher Carl Van Faasen worked with Peaslee and his research team. In addition to the schools' ability to contribute to the understanding of the watershed, Peaslee values that young students will be learning important lessons about the impact of human activity on the environment--and water quality in particular.

"The only real long-term solution is education," he said. "You have to change the practices that go on."

In addition to his research and educational work, Peaslee has been involved in committee work for the Macatawa Watershed Project and its parent Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, and has referred interns to the MACC. He also has additional research planned.

His initial research project, he noted, found that the levels of human-added metals such as copper and lead were relatively low. The project did, however, turn up a small area of pollution that he and his student researchers hope to study more closely. "I doubt that it's dangerous, but we might as well spend some time figuring out what it is and characterize it," he said.

Peaslee's work has received funding not only from local sources but also through national agencies such as the National Science Foundation. He is currently seeking national support for another project that will involve investigating Lake Michigan. His initial studies of the big lake have found signs of an additive to automobile fuel, which passes into the air through car exhaust and then finds its way into the water. He hopes to better understand the quantity and location of the pollution.

The Lake Michigan research, which he intends to conduct in cooperation with Western Michigan University, will use the college's newest particle accelerator, a Pelletron particle accelerator and attached microprobe facility that became operational in the fall of 2004. "There are only a few accelerators in the country that can do it, and we happen to have one," he said.

Others, Peaslee said, aren't the only ones that are benefiting from his research projects. He noted that he personally has enjoyed what he has learned and the new direction that his research has taken since he began his work with the Watershed Project.

Referring to the forthcoming Lake Michigan project, he said, "I wouldn't have dreamed about doing that five years ago because I knew nothing about lakes five years ago. This is a fun thing that I stumbled into not knowing anything about lake chemistry before."