In 2017, Princeton students fanned out over the residential streets of West Trenton, New Jersey, to measure the amount of lead contamination in and around the city’s houses and water sources.
The students were participants in a summer internship program organized by John Higgins, assistant professor of geosciences, and Janet Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs. Part of a larger project called “Urban Tap Water and Human Health,” it originally began in 2016 with the aim of understanding and correlating the level and source of lead contamination in Trenton homes with childhood health and development.
For students, it was a chance to combine science with community service by providing West Trenton residents with free lead contamination testing.
The students used handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) readers to gather the basic readings in the field and then took these data back to Higgins’ lab where they used chemical analyses to quantify the amount of lead in the samples.
“The work students do on this project helps them see an application of laboratory science to community engagement,” said Jack Murphy, a graduate student in Higgins’ lab. “It feels satisfying to help people get the information they need to keep themselves, their families and their community safe.”