In the new Science Facility at the City University of New York’s Lehman College, a central courtyard will host a constructed wetland, or planted field of native grasses that will purify storm water and grey water for non-potable reuse. A parallel system of mechanical filters and tanks will enable students and faculty to carry out comparisons between differing approaches to water purification. At any point along either system, students and faculty can gather samples from plants, soil or water to understand the underlying natural processes promoting an awareness of the "connectedness of things" and the relationship of healthy water to healthy soil, healthy plants and healthy people.
This "living laboratory" will be incorporated across the undergraduate curricula in biology, chemistry and environmental science classes. It also will provide opportunities for graduate- and faculty-level research, drawing on the college’s specialized doctoral programs in the plant sciences. Furthermore, the system will enhance the college’s transition to a more integrated and interdisciplinary approach to science education. Chemists will analyze plant tissue for accumulated heavy metals, and plant biologists will trace the impact of these different runoff streams and ecologists will measure water quality.
At a more advanced level, solar thermal panels and an integrated building-management system will be incorporated into physics curriculum to teach concepts of energy phase change. Real-time displays will monitor building energy use so that students and faculty can track the quantity of energy gathered from the sun. Given the specifics of the New York City climate and the local price of energy, students will be able to compare the merits of solar thermal arrays with other local photovoltaic arrays.
The broader goal of the project is to serve as a "gateway to the sciences" that engages students who otherwise might not pursue coursework or a career in the sciences. As this urban oasis will remain open to the campus and surrounding Bronx community, it is expected this inviting hidden garden also will make evident the relevance of current scientific research to people’s everyday lives. This constructed wetland will provide the college the opportunity to build on its existing relationships with area high schools in which a limited number of high school science classes are taught in Lehman’s facilities.