Undergraduate Research Papers to be Published on MST

Written by on January 8, 2015 in Other News, Spotlight

Editor’s Note — New year, new series! MST is introducing a new series of research papers and articles written by undergraduate students at Coastal Carolina University. The students spent a semester researching and writing about paper and pulp mills and their effluent discharges into local waterways. We will be publishing two papers a month in a new section and a corresponding summary that will be published with the daily news. Below, Coastal Carolina Science Communications Adjunct Instructor James Borton introduces the course and the series in more detail.

By James Borton

This fall semester at Coastal Carolina University, located near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I taught Marine Science students the value of story in science writing.

Paper mill seen from Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/aflennik/2997228239/">Mountain Hermit</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>.

Paper mill seen from Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Mountain Hermit via photopin cc.

While some students rejected the use of metaphors in science communication, many discovered new ways to document their lab reports and field observations. More importantly, all of them gained an appreciation for the place of narrative in science. Of course, I had to earn their confidence and trust since I migrated to science and carried both the burden and responsibility as a humanist. That is, prior to my academic appointment, I had been teaching writing in the English Department. So there was a positivist wall that needed to be torn down about the use of active versus passive voice, about the value of figurative language versus precision, and about thesis versus hypothesis. In short my daunting task was to instruct students about the rhetoric of science. My instruction reaffirmed the narrative voice through selected literary works like Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us and examined rhetorical devices in Sylvia Earle’s Ted Talk on ocean conservation. At the end of the semester, we understood how science and story are not mutually exclusive. After all, there is a shared obligation in both the sciences and humanities to nurture what is most human.

As part of Coastal’s Marine Science requirements in this Science Communications course, I asked my students to complete a collaborative research project on the paper and pulp mills and their effluent discharges into rivers. In the course of the semester, we learned how rivers ecosystems are disrupted by the chemical discharges from paper mills. There are nearly 600 paper and pulp mills operating in the United States, producing over 9 million tons of pulp annually. Students in their research papers, discovered that the bleaching processes does generate chlorinated dioxins and furans into the wastewater.

Some students examined the impact of International Paper’s factory wastewater discharges into the polluted Sampit River in Georgetown, South Carolina. They also offered thoughtful literature review studies on other river systems affected by paper and pulp mills. I am proud of my students as they explained how different pulp and paper mills all produce slightly different wastewaters, requiring different treatments, including bioremediation.

Based on their research and literature reviews, the evidence is more than compelling that more changes should be made in the bleaching and pulping practices, since rivers and marine organisms will continue to be damaged by the their effluents. Here are some of these undergraduate studies for your review.

James Borton, is a former National Endowment Fellow in the Humanities at Yale University. He has edited two books, The Art of Medicine in Metaphors (Copernicus Healthcare 2013) and Venture Japan (Probus 1992). His environmental focused articles have been published in The Washington Times, Asia Times, Far Eastern Economic Review and Asia Literary Review. He recently wrote about Vietnamese fishermen and the challenges they face in the contested South China Sea. James teaches writing in the English and Marine Science departments at Coastal Carolina University. He is an ardent sailor and follows Emerson’s advice: “ Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air…” He is currently writing about paper and pulp mills.

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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