Chlorine, the Swimmer’s Element

Eau de Chlorine is a badge of honor for swimmers.  It’s a sign of dedication to the sport that makes them happy.  And for teenagers it’s a better smell than puberty or any other sport provides. But such a recognizable bouquet comes with a cost: dry / brittle hair, dry skin and itchy eyes.  As a swim parent, I was interested in the chemistry behind pool maintenance which is where my fairy ninja spends most of her time and works her magic.

Disinfection for pools is necessary when you have humid conditions and humans in the water.   Chlorine is extremely effective at killing bacteria and other organisms by invading the cells and destroying the proteins that keep the cell functioning.[i] The “chlorine” smell that many swimmers and swim parents are familiar with is actually chloramine which forms when chlorine reacts with bacteria and nitrogen containing biological materials.

The most common pool sanitizer chemical is chlorine, but there are others you can use, including[ii]:

  • Bromine: chlorine’s halogen cousin and more commonly used in hot tubs and indoor pools. Bromine works a little differently than chlorine and it’s not as effective when dealing with certain types of algae. It’s not recommended for pools in direct sunlight. Sunlight eats up bromine very fast because it’s not stabilized.
  • Biguanide: It’s an effective sanitizer for swimming pools and even makes the water feel smoother. However, biguanide is provided in a specialized chemical package and is not compatible with traditional pool balancing chemicals.
  • Minerals are introduced to the water by a system that resembles a chlorinator, but they sanitize much slower than chlorine. A mineral system is not a complete chlorine alternative but it does significantly reduce the amount of chlorine needed.

When a chlorine particle attacks and kills bacteria, it floats around in the water as chloramine or other by-products.  To remove the by-products, you must “shock” the water by adding enough chlorine or other oxider to reach breakpoint oxidation. Pool shock is done overnight because free chlorine becomes inactive in sunlight and takes 8-10 hours to complete oxidation.  Oxidation of chlorine by-products by ingredients like Vitamin C is the purpose of specialty shampoos, body washes or sprays for swimmers but the ingredients need to be at a high enough concentration.

There is more to the pool chemistry than killing bacteria and viruses.  The two elements of a clean pool are sanitation and water balance.[iii]  There are three components to keeping pool water balanced: pH, alkalinity and calcium hardness.  Water balance also depends on keeping dirt and debris out of the pool.

There are milder alternatives that provide sanitization which eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of chlorine needed.

Salt-water treatment for pools sound likes a non-chlorine option but it is only another means of producing chlorine using chlorinated salts and an electrical unit that breaks it down.  It has maintenance and water balancing issues similar to traditional chlorine treatments.

Ozone systems create low levels of reactive ozone gas in water circulation systems and kill bacteria and oxidize chlorine by-products and organic materials.[iv] Caution needs to be taken that ozone stays in the water long enough to do its work but is removed or degraded to oxygen gas (O2) before reaching contact with humans or open air.  Its reactivity can be more damaging to skin and eyes than chlorine or chloramines.[v]  Well balanced and filtered ozone pools can provide water that doesn’t have the characteristic chloramine smell.

UV systems irradiate water with UV light strong enough to disinfect pool water. The process attacks the microorganism’s DNA — protozoans, viruses and bacteria are unable to reproduce and remain inactive.  Chlorine, at a significantly lower level, is used as a backup system.[vi] Irradiated water needs to be filtered same as other treatment methods.

An alternative system (brand name ClearComfort) uses a principal similar to Ozone and UV systems but create reactive hydroxyl compounds and hydrogen peroxide which are effective enough to nearly eliminate need for chlorine.[vii]

Sphagnum moss is a more recent technology for pools that is as old as nature for cleaning water.  It is not a standalone technology but works better than traditional water conditioning chemicals and is very effective on eliminating by-products of sanitization.[viii]  Pool water is contacted with the moss in line with filtration.  Moss is effective at preventing biofilm and scaling.[ix]

In summary, keeping a pool clean and balanced to avoid illness or irritation is not a simple task.  There are options to minimize chlorine quantities but all treatements need to be maintained carefully.  For more information on what it takes to keep pools balanced, check out the National Swimming Pools Foundation Certified Pool Operator program.

[i] Science of Summer: How Chlorine Kills Pool Germs

[ii] Swim University: Basic Pool Chemistry 101

[iii] Swim University: Basic Pool Chemistry 101

[iv] What is Ozone? ClearWater Tech, LLC

[v] A biased view on the negative effects of ozone but accurate science

[vi] Here is an article that describes the working of ozone and UV systems and one with UV system technical information

[vii] I wasn’t able to find a neutral source on the ClearComfort system but here is their website

[viii] Information on Moss treatment systems

[ix] Benefits of moss on maintenance issues


New Year, New Goals

I have promised to myself and a friend that I would write more this year.  Of course, “more” is an easy bar to jump over since last year was “none”. I agree enthusiastically that this needs to happen, but as with all projects, getting started is the hardest part.

I thought I would change the name of my blog page to something other than Fairy Ninjas but I was encouraged not to since it does have meaning and a warm memory associated with it.  It also represents my view that people are never one thing; they can’t be described with one noun or adjective.  I am female by anatomy and identity.  But I am also a mother, a sister, a wife, a friend, an engineer, a knitter.  I could be described as smart, funny, sarcastic, loud, introverted, friendly, book lover, sensitive, conflict avoiding, demanding, and kind.  I call to mind often the TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie about the danger of a single story (it’s excellent, watch it).

In this universe of constant commentary by everyone and everyone else judging the value of that commentary, I ask myself the following:

  • Why would someone care what I have to say?
  • What do I have to say that someone else hasn’t already?
  • How will I react to negative, often hurtful, things are said about my writing?

I don’t have answers yet but realized that I’m asking the wrong questions.  What I should be asking is what I will get out of the exploration and expression.  I pride myself on my vocabulary and choosing the exact word to express thoughts and ideas precisely.  I read previous blog posts or papers written for school or work and I am pleased by what I wrote. I need to exercise that verbal muscle, for no better reason that writing will help clarify and expose thoughts that are rattling around.

So please hold me accountable.  I state here that I will have one blog post of substance per month.  “Substance” meaning it requires research and cited sources.  Other posts may be more rambling and clearing of the mental attic and I will have one of those per month as well.  This one counts for January, of course.

Thank you to anybody that takes the time to read this.  Thank you for sharing your valuable time with me.

Want a Sustainable Future? Educate for it!

Jaimie Cloud, Founder of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, with other education reformers, is looking to change K-12 education to create citizens ready for the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.  She has built principles and curricula supporting Education for Sustainability. The list of school districts that she has helped transform are on the Cloud Institute website.

Education for Sustainability stands in contrast to Educating about Unsustainability: the depressing story of how much is wrong with the world and how horrible we are as humans for destroying the planet and each other.  While many feel that “fear, doubt and uncertainty” is an effective way to wake people up, Cloud believes that it has the opposite effect on the psyche.  The brain shuts down when it perceives a threat and stops participating, leaving the body to fight or flight.  A disengaged brain is not effective if you’re trying to change mindsets. Jaimie tells a story about her preschool daughter coming home sad that “air pollution is bad.”  She didn’t fully understand why or even what air was but while she knew that bad stuff was out there, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do about it. What a burden for a 3 year old!

Educating about Sustainability presents a hopeful view of a new future: good food, community, living within planetary boundaries, meaningful work, and joy.  Jamie feels, however, that prior efforts at this lacked the competencies for building this wonderful future. She has set out to remedy that.

Educating for Sustainability (EfS) is based on the belief that we must create new neural connections.  Cloud suggests “an alternative to the air pollution story teaching children about the reciprocation of plants and humans:  humans breathe out CO2 which plants use to create food and give out O2 that humans can breathe in to support life.”  What student wouldn’t appreciate plants after that type of lesson? Of course this is a very simplistic view of the CO2 problem, as it relates to climate change, but it’s a foundation level appropriate for pre-school that can then support advanced learning in planetary systems as a child progresses through school.

Cloud’s journey toward EfS begins in Evanston, Illinois, as a student in one of the first Global Education schools.  It was 1968, the Vietnam era. The world was in turmoil, and schools were not immune. Global Education was created by professors at various universities with schools of education who came to believe that U.S. schools didn’t prepare their students for the complexity, diversity and uncertainty of the world around them. They came together to create curricula to ready students for the 21st century, which was still 30 years away.

Students, even as early as 6th grade, began to track data about the planet: the loss of languages and biodiversity, the changes to the atmosphere.  The data they collected showed that many aspects about our planet were in decline. Cloud felt like “the boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Didn’t anybody else see the problem?”

In 1987 with the Brundtland “Our Common Future” report that there was a name for this: unsustainable.  The 1992 Rio Summit then created Agenda 21, a roadmap for sustainability.  Within this was Chapter 36 delineating the first set of competencies needed to educate young people for the future.  Using her early schooling and the UN’s new competencies, Cloud began collecting and collating curricula for Educating for Sustainability from around the globe: working with NGOs, University Centers, Ministers of Education, local schools.

Today, there is more pressure for schools to reinvent their curriculum through the lens of sustainability.  The Center for Green Schools from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has a goal that every school becomes a green school in this generation. The U.S. Department of Education has set 3 pillars to define a Green School: 1) health of occupants, 2) green building and 3) curriculum and instruction.  The first two pillars have more data and better defined standards. The third pillar is less defined and caught in the trap many feel that that EfS, Educating about Sustainability and Education about Unsustainable are equivalent. Outcomes of these different pedagogies need field analysis.

A three issue series in the Journal of Sustainability Education, seeking to bring the field together in a coherent manner, is being guest edited by Cloud.  The first was issued in late 2014. The theme is an invitation to scholars and thought leaders to weigh in on the essentials. A matrix of their work was created that spanned nine competency categories. The second issue, currently being edited, is a meta-analysis of the information received using grounded theory methodology to create benchmarks and measure impact.  The third issue will call for exemplars based on the nine competencies matrix and the meta-analysis.

What Cloud is doing is somewhat risky. Even Cloud Institute’s framework could need to change based on the creation of the new pillars. “But it’s worth the risk so that there can be a meshed framework”, says Cloud.  She believes that “one big area that needs to be included as a standard now as a result of our consensus process is the epistemology of thought: cognitive frameworks or ‘thinking about thinking.’ ”. It is difficult to shift mental models if you can’t recognize them or have language to describe them.

With all this is exciting work, there is still frustration.  Many sectors—government, business, energy, food, design—are addressing global un-sustainability, but to date, K-12 education has not been invited to the discussion table. There is little investment from the corporate or philanthropic worlds. Cloud has three ideas for why this is the case:

  • Education, for good reason, is not considered innovative. For many, school was the least creative experience of their lives and they’ve had to unlearn mental models that keep them from building a sustainable world. To transform society we need to transform education. This is a daunting task.
  • Investment in education is considered a 20-year payback and there aren’t 20 years to make the shift. “This is a classic misunderstanding of the power of youth leadership,” says Cloud. Young people are not afraid of innovation and their minds are creative, as long as they are given permission to use them. Adults who will not change their mindset for their own sake will break through mental brick walls for their children. See organizations like Teens Turning Green or Two Angry Moms.
  • On the school side, branding as “Education for Sustainability” sounds like there is an agenda. However, once educators see the curricula and programming they realize it is a curriculum based in meta-cognition, science, math, humanities and everything that goes into a good education.

The biggest barrier is understanding what EfS is all about. The EfS standards complement and can help make come alive the non-negotiable standards being imposed on school districts.

Some of the most enthusiastic supporters are underserved communities. The whole idea of sustainability is built around a positive reinforcing loop of justice, community health, and elimination of poverty. For teachers, it’s not just another set of standards they need to meet; teachers are remembering why they became educators.

I can’t help but be excited every time I talk to Jaimie. It is “joyful work” for her.

How can we all help her bring the vision of EfS to life? As a parent, you can encourage your local schools to engage in the EfS revolution. As an educator, build the competencies into your curriculum.  As a sustainability leader, bring educators to the table. As a citizen, support and advocate for systems that make a difference.

Reblog: The Problem With Girls In Math And Science

I wish there were fewer blogs like talk about these types of personal experiences.  But there are SO MANY and this voices the frustration of parents of girls particularly those who are in STEM fields themselves.

Originally posted on Drifting through my open mind:

The Problem With Girls In Math And Science.

Science without Representation

My government doesn’t represent me.  I am a female scientist and engineer who is working to help business combat the disruptive results of climate change. I help companies engage in practices that can limit the environmental and social damage caused by addiction to fossil fuels.

My lack of representation is exemplified by the senate appointments to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The subcommittee appointments of Ted Cruz on Science, Space and Competitiveness and Marco Rubio on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard are especially insulting.  These two committees oversee NASA and NOAA, the agencies that authored of the State of the Climate Report. This confirms that global warming is real, and that the planet had its warmest year on record in 2014.   Both of these politicians chosen are climate deniers who claim to not be scientists but  feel qualified to devalue the opinion of 97% of the scientific community who agree that climate is changing and that human habits are the cause.

Our societal science literacy is suffering. The language used in the climate change denial is an insult to scientists.  The mistrust of science is high.  The ability to critically assess information and challenge data is rare to non-existent. The fact that the U.S. is 20th in science education among the 34 OECD countries doesn’t help citizens to elect people of learning and those who respect the scientific disciplines.  Many people stay away from learning more because, “it’s too hard.”  But this is wrong: the basics of scientific inquiry and engineering problem solving are reachable for anyone and can be taught without complex math or advanced science topics.

It is embarrassing that those who uphold the Founding Fathers as their guiding light in the political path have neglected their education on history.  Thomas Jefferson, the father of the GOP and the concept of minimum government intervention into personal lives was an advocate for education. He made this clear in his A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.   

“It is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this [tyranny] would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.”

He further states that education needs to be for all “without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance”.

It is important to acknowledge that Jefferson was a product of his time. He was primarily concerned with providing education for those that would participate in government, which was white men.  A commentary by Nichole Blackwood from 2012 at states “Jefferson’s treatment of gender and race also complicates his message.”  However, most of his fellow Founding Fathers, notably John Adams, later Jefferson’s rival, understood that mothers had the care and education of the sons, who, given that they could eventually go into public service needed mothers educated sufficiently to educate them, as well.

Mr. Adams was likely influenced by his wife Abigail, whose correspondence with her husband and friends opens a window into early feminism.  She was a strong advocate of education for women beyond the basics of reading and writing.She and her friends created a virtual book and education club where they shared, via letters, what books and topics they were reading. Their learning expanded into Latin and other classics that were only accessible through their male relatives who were off at school. (Source: Abigail Adams by Woody Holton, Free Press, 2009).  Cokie Roberts covers this topic as well in Founding Mothers (HarperCollins, 2004) and mentions it in her Kahn Academy video series from the Aspen Institue.

If we are to address, seriously and successfully, the food supply, energy, waste and water issues and the social injustice that faces humanity, we need an educated and accurately informed populace.  Only then we elect officials who are educated, informed and can think critically about complex problems.  Our Founding Fathers recognized this need. They would be ashamed of the dismissal of science and education from their hard won political system now advocated by those who claim to be their successors in party and principles.

Knitting is an Engineering Exercise

There is much discussion about how we need to make sure that the Arts don’t get lost in the discussion about increased STEM emphasis. STEAM is the new term being used that realizes Arts are not separate.  My personal experience is that scientists and engineers are amazingly creative and engage in types of art that fuels this creativity: music, drawing, painting, fiber arts of all types.  And who hasn’t seen an amazing designed and crafted piece of technology and know that there was an artist inside the engineer.

Over the Christmas and New Year break, conveniently coinciding with my school break, I was able to indulge in my creative joy of knitting.  I love to knit.  Seeing the stitches turn into a pattern and then a final object is enticing.   It’s addicting and sitting still long enough to turn yarn into fabric is a meditation.

An integrated part of Engineering and Knitting is making mistakes in a safe space and learning from them.  Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned through my knitting experiments.

1) The reason why every pattern tells you to check your gauge (the combination of yarn + needle size+ knitter that equals rows and stitches per inch) is that the pieces don’t fit if you don’t.  I have many objects that were supposed to be hats but are too floppy or too small and get turned into doll purses or dress-up items.

Engineering lesson: Accurate and meaningful measurement are important.  Make a scale model to see how it all fits together.

2) Measure the person you’re making a sweater for.  My first truly ambitious knitted item was a reindeer pattern sweater for my brother.  I was 14 at the time and estimated how big I needed to make it.  It was at least 5 sizes too big.  Even after he went through his first growth spurt, it was too big.

Engineering lesson: Know who and what you are designing for.  One size does not fit all.

3) The yarn you use will make a difference in how the item drapes or doesn’t, feels soft or scratchy, is warm for winter or breathable for summer, is stretchy to fit or is sturdy for structure.  And while there are great, low cost synthetic yarns that are perfectly suited for getting beat up (i.e. kids’ hats, mittens, scarves), investing in good wool or cotton can turn an item into a wardrobe staple or the blanket on the couch that everyone fights for.

Engineering lesson: Materials matter. Understanding how different materials behave and react to shaping or stress will help your design.

4) Trying new techniques can be daunting and if the the stakes are high, downright scary.  Don’t learn  on the most expensive yarn, because you might have to tear it apart and start over.  Start with a cheaper “waste” yarn and play around until you understand the technique well enough that you can move to the better fibers without risking the whole project.

Engineering lesson: Find a proxy material that can be used to test some models before digging in to the “good stuff”.  You will understand the concepts better and may see a problem that you didn’t plan for but can fix without waste.

I am now going to follow my own advice and try out a new technique called a Moebius loop.  As a scientist, how can I not try that technique!

In Progress!

My first post is in progress and will be published soon.  Check back again.  I promise you (and my Capstone project advisor) that it will be here by the end of October 2014.