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Undeterred by Slime, UT Professor and Student Tackle Water Quality

Published: Sep 22, 2009
While floating on the crew docks on the north side of campus, University of Tampa professor Steve Hendrix and his student Theresa Hendrick ‘10 hoist an almost 60-pound apparatus out of the Hillsborough River.

“It’s a slimy business,” said Hendrix, the apparatus encrusted with algae and aquatic life. The two had gathered recently to clean the tiny sensor buried deep within the underwater apparatus.

Installed in late December, the sensor station monitors water quality and is a collaboration with the University of South Florida College of Marine Science/Coastal Ocean Monitoring and Prediction System (COMPS). As water flows toward Tampa Bay, the sensor station uses ultraviolet light to test for chemicals in the water, which absorb light.

Hendrick, a chemistry major, is assisting Hendrix this semester in the study of water samples collected at the same time as the sensor is testing samples. The duo complete in-lab testing for nitrates, salinity and water temperature, hoping to confirm similar results by the sensor to make sure the apparatus is working properly.

“As scientists, we want to correlate the data. Are the numbers real?” asked Hendrix, an associate professor of chemistry. So far, the answer has been yes.

In order to do the confirmation, a water sample must be collected by the crew docks at the same time the sensor is taking a sample, done at 16 minutes and 46 minutes past the hour, every hour.

To help with this process, Hendrix asked his former student, Hendrick, if she would be interested in assisting him with the research this year, assisting with the water testing at times when he has to be teaching and providing data for ongoing research projects. The public can monitor data from the station online.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Hendrick who is considering graduate school and is excited to have the research practice. “I think it’s really fascinating because in my whole college career I’ve been learning, learning, learning and now I’m applying it to real-world stuff.”

The UT station will be integrated into a larger project by the Oceanic Nutrient Laboratory, which recently collaborated with Tampa Bay Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS) and the USF COMPS to monitor nutrients in Tampa Bay. These observing systems are also integrated with NOAA coastal ocean observing systems (COOS).