Strange things are afoot at the pool


Alyse Allred 

Perhaps you’ve seen various AP Chemistry students hanging around the poolside throughout the week, toting briefcases containing odd-shaped lab equipment and mysterious powders. Perhaps you’ve even watched them sampling the water of our resident pool. But you probably haven’t noticed the changes.

That’s because there aren’t any. Yet.

Give it another year, though.

Partway through the first nine weeks, Professor Ernest R. Blatchley of Purdue’s Engineering Department gave a presentation to West Side’s two AP Chemistry classes. His plan: a three year test for new techniques for cleaning swimming pools, using West Side’s pool as the testing ground.

During all three years, the researchers need the assistance of the resident students to conduct the daily tests on pool water. “[The tests] measure the free and total chlorine in liquid phase in the pool and trichloromine,” explained Merhnaz Afifi, the Purdue graduate student who assists in the gathering of this information.

Excess chlorine of these phases, which includes the strong scent we generally associate with the pool, is not the chlorine that is used to clean the pool. Instead, it is the result of chemical reactions that happen between the cleaning chemicals and various substances generated by patron swimmers. These unintended chemical byproducts pose a variety of health risks.

“It’s not mandatory,” said AP Chemistry Student and participant, Xiaoqin Zhu, “but really interesting.”

Individual students are assigned to a partner with whom they conduct the 45 minute test once a week. Different students monitor the pool on different days, but at consistent times; for example, Zhu and her partner, Gauri Shastri, run the tests every Thursday after school.

However, merely testing the pool water does not cover the full extent of the project. In fact, it only covers about a third.

Although the pool testing will continue over the full course of the project, there are three main phases. The first year is the least interesting. During this time, daily measurements are taken in order to monitor the weekly and monthly fluctuations that are normal to the pool, and use them as comparison against the experimental data.

It isn’t until the study’s second year that things get interesting. Starting next school year, the research team will begin using a new pool-cleaning technique utilizing low-pressure UV light. Following a year of this treatment, yet another will be used for the third year: high-pressure UV light. This does not mean that they are removing the old treatment; they are simply using the new in addition to the old.

“[It’s] a very good opportunity to be involved in actual research,” says Peter Von Werder, West Side’s AP Chemistry teacher. “When it’s all said and done . . . . I think they’ll realize that they were a part of a significant research project.”


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