Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant employees brought science and robotics to life for students at the Pueblo School District 60 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Fair.
“By interacting with students and showing them that science can be fun, we are hopeful to inspire a future generation of scientists and engineers,” said former teacher Mechelle Cass-Burrell, who works in the plant’s laboratory. “And, it’s nice to bring the science behind PCAPP to the kids.”
Cass-Burrell is a gas chromatography/flame photometric detector/mass selective detector operator, calibrating and using the equipment at the plant that detects and measures mustard agent. Also with her at the STEM Fair was Mac Barth, the lab’s method development chemist, who helps develop improved agent detection. Together they used toy robots to demonstrate how the Projectile/Mortar Disassembly System works, emphasizing the plant’s goal of safely eliminating obsolete projectiles. The battery-operated robotic arms were a big hit with the kids as they tried to pick up and move empty plastic bottles that represented munitions, Cass-Burrell said.
More than 200 primary and secondary students competed at the fair, held Jan. 28-30 at Colorado State University-Pueblo, near the plant destroying the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile in Colorado.
The scientists joined other PCAPP workers – Jaylynn Sharp, monitoring technician; Jessica Reyes, maintenance supervisor; Elicia Vigil, quality control inspector; and Jon Bush and Paul Mrock, cognizant systems engineers – to judge science projects from middle- and high-school students at the three-day event.
Prior to an awards assembly on the final day, Cass-Burrell and Barth also illustrated applications of atmospheric science with a “Fortune Fish” demonstration. Fortune Fish are made up of a hygroscopic polymer that allows water absorption and retention. Water vapor in the air, or ions, can cause a reaction, and the cellophane fish expands and curls up with moisture. The Pueblo plant uses atmospheric science to detect chemical agent and filter out byproducts of the neutralization process that destroys it.