- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Students from Belhaven University visited the Jackson Zoo to gather data from its grounds for the first time on Sept. 3.

The school has partnered with the zoo to accomplish two goals: to create a scientific record to aid the zoo’s master plan and to teach students how to apply their science classes in the real world.

Marjory Clement, a senior chemistry major from Belhaven University, uses an instrument to reach into a pond at the Jackson Zoo to collect a sample of water. She said the analysis, which can take place with university technology on the spot, can help shed light on how the water flows through the park.

“We don’t want water running into the neighborhoods and where it’s not supposed to go,” said Clement, the president of the student chapter of the American Chemical Society at Belhaven.

Clement is able to test the pH level for six chemicals. Three-hundred students from the school will participate in the project over the next year - and not all are science-majors.

Leslie Walker, a chemistry professor at Belhaven, said one of the most exciting aspects of the project is the inclusion of students of various majors.

“It’s a great civic engagement project,” Walker said. “Science isn’t just high-tech, scary, in a lab somewhere. This makes it less scary for the students.”

The students will collect location and heat data, eventually creating a map that shows which areas in the park have a higher temperature than others. This will help the zoo determine the best location for each exhibit and each animal. Experts from Biotactus, a Clinton-based chemical consultant firm, will lend support to the students on their data analysis.

Angela Harris, the zoo’s marketing and communications manager, said this kind of data has never been recorded, so it will be essential to the zoo’s master plan - which is in the final drafting stages but could double the size of the facility. The plan also includes new exhibits and additional parking spaces.

“The research they provide for us will help create sustainability policies for the zoo, help us be able to make smarter decisions and find more efficient ways to do things,” Harris said.

Lucy Barton, Jackson Zoo director of education, said the zoo hopes the students’ research will help the staff know how to conserve their resources - whether it be water, animal food or amenities for their guests.

Beyond scientific discovery, Harris said the partnership is a good opportunity for the zoo to host college-aged visitors - an age group they often miss out on. She said the zoo, which already has a partnership with nearby Jackson State University, will be working to strike up partnerships with other universities for other long-term projects.

Meanwhile, Walker said it’s “nice to get out of the lab a little bit.”

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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