How Do Scientists Solve Environmental Health Problems?

Environmental Health Problems Graphic


The OSU SRC research projects use instruments to measure trace amounts of chemicals in the air, water, and soil. In addition, zebrafish are used to understand how those chemical affect human health.

Unsolved Mysteries of Human Health is an OSU NIEHS-funded affiliated project that shows how our scientists study toxic chemicals and health.


Why Use Zebrafish?

Zebrafish embryo development - 24 hours in 46 seconds


Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory (SARL) at Oregon State University is the largest zebrafish toxicology laboratory in the world!

Zebrafish are often used in lab experiments for several reasons:

  1. Zebrafish reproduce very quickly and their embryos develop into young fish within days. Scientists can see results of their experiments fast.
  2. Like most fish, zebrafish eggs develop outside the mother’s body. Scientists can watch the embryos develop without disturbing them.
  3. Zebrafish embryos have clear bodies. Scientists can watch the fish as they develop and see the organs inside their bodies.
  4. Zebrafish biology is very well understood. Scientists have studied zebrafish for a very long time.

Video: Custom automation helps scientists screen environmental chemicals

Learn more about SARL and the K-12 Outreach


K-12 Outreach at SARL

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, PAHs, and Health

Our Center sampled the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in air and water in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The level of PAHs in crude oil varies between 0.2 and 7%, depending on location. Although this seems like a small percent, PAHs are a significant toxicological health concern. Learn more

Dr. Kim Anderson created videos to educate communities that were impacted by the spill.

Other Gulf Oil Spill Resources

Overview: In this lesson students will review the BP oil spill and learn about current ways we are cleaning it up. They will test different methods that are currently being used in the gulf clean-up. After testing they will analyze the different methods and determine the most efficient way to clean up the oil spill. This activity is appropriate for grades 6th-8th.

The Largest Oil Spills in History, 1901 to Present

In 2011, Toxicology graduate students participated in a seminar to gain practice in creating middle school curriculum and teaching students. The two activities below were the products of the course.


  • Chemical Conundrum (pdf)
    Mass is a measurement that may be used to separate individual chemicals out of a complex mixture. In this activity, students explore different methods of separating out a complex mixture, and explore the difference between mass and weight.Incorporating M & Ms makes it fun for the students while they learn about physical and chemical properties of matter.The activity relates to Oregon Science Standards 6.1P.1 and 7.1P.1
  • A Picture is Worth a Thousand Data Points (pdf)
    Data generated during scientific experiments is commonly and effectively represented in the form of a graph or figure. In this exercise students explore how to convert data to graphs and figures. The activity relates to Oregon Science Standard 7.3S.2.

Mass Spec Activity Using M & M candy
Sorting M & M candy by
various characteristics

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) Activity from NIEHS
  • Investigating PAHs: Your Own Mini-Epi Study - An activity from NIEHS for 10-12 grade. Students read EHP article “Prenatal PAH Exposure Causes Genetic Changes in Newborns,” and design a mini epidemiological study to identify potential sources of PAHs and at-risk populations in their community.

Exposure Activites from the EPA

  • Air Quality Index: An interactive activity adapted from "Air Quality Index: A Guide to Air Quality and Your Health" by the U.S. EPA examines how data related to pollutants in the air are collected and reported. For grades 6-12.

Other Resource Sites