Putting Stamp Sand to Good Use, and Then Some

break water at Grand Traverse with stamp sands and town along the forest edge
break water at Grand Traverse with stamp sands and town along the forest edge
Stamps sands are materials left over from stamping the copper out of the mine rock.

The Whiz Kids team from Lake Linden-Hubbell High School have participated in eCYBERMISSION, a US Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP). Their mission: research and develop a process to benefit their community.

The Whiz Kids—Siona Beaudoin, Beau Hakala and Gabriel Poirier—is the only team from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The group has been advised by students, faculty and staff from Michigan Technological University and focused on stamp sands for the past three years.

“Our elementary school, playground and football field were constructed on top of stamp sands—materials left over from stamping the copper out of the mine rock,” the team wrote in their AEOP grant proposal. “Also, many of our grandparents worked in area mines.”

The team decided to try to use some of the stamp sand. Their goal was twofold: decrease the amount of stamp sand in the area and help prevent it from migrating any further.  

Because stamp sand is rich in copper, many plants cannot grow in it. In fall 2016, the Whiz Kids decided to see which plants could grow in stamp sand. Using containers under grow lights at their school, they determined alfalfa and fescue grew well, while trefoil and red clover did not. This research won them first place in the national e-CYBERMISSION 8th grade competition. The team is now growing alfalfa and fescue in test plots on the Lake Linden stamp sands.

three students pick up sand samples
 Because stamp sand is rich in copper, many plants cannot grow in it.

In fall 2017, as ninth graders, the Whiz Kids placed first in Michigan. Instead of progressing through the eCYBERMISSION competition, they won an $1,800 STEM in Action Grant from the AEOP to continue researching stamp sand.

This time, the team used stamp sand from Lake Linden and nearby town of Gay as part of the fine aggregate in concrete. They found that the compressive strength of concrete made with stamp sand and commercial sand exceeded the strength requirements of lightweight concrete.

"Their hard work and dedication to a local scientific problem has shown that a few students at a small school can make a huge impact on their community. Growing plants on stamp sand and using stamp sand in concrete, have opened the door to methods that could actually be used to remediate the stamp sands in the Lake Superior watershed."Nick Squires, science teacher, Lake Linden High School

Whiz Kids Go to Washington

Both last year and this summer, the Whiz Kids traveled to Washington, DC, to present their work at the eCYBERMISSION National Competition. This year's trip began on Father’s Day, June 17–the day of the Houghton County flood. They were supposed to leave on the 6 a.m. flight at the Houghton Airport.

Gabriel Poirier made it there on time. Beau Hakala was stuck in Mason between two mud slides that covered M-26. With the help of people in Mason, he and his family were driven through the flooded roads to Siona Beaudoin’s house, so that her father could drive them to the airport. United Airlines staff and TSA employees helped everyone stranded; The flight finally left around 5 p.m. and the team arrived in Washington, DC at midnight.

whiz kids team stand with EPA officials
 Mitigating stamp sand encroachment involves many stakeholders. 

While in DC, the team presented their concrete research at an eCYBERMISSION showcase and poster session. As part of the week-long activities, the team met with U.S. Representative Jack Bergman and Senator Debbie Stabenow to discuss their projects and their potential impact on the community. With help from Representative Bergman, the team met with scientists at the EPA to learn how the agency implements new remediation methods. The team also received information about EPA contacts in Chicago and Duluth to discuss their projects in greater detail.

As eCYBERMISSION attendees, they enjoyed engineering activities in DC, including how to operate and program drones, create a circuit and use night vision goggles to see the lights in the circuit, as well as about cybersecurity by hacking into a system.

Mentoring Makes the Difference 

The Whiz Kids traveled to DC with their advisor Ryan Knoll, a chemical engineering senior at Michigan Tech and graduate of Lake Linden High School. Also advising the Whiz Kids, are Lake Linden high school teacher Nick Squires; Gretchen Hein, a senior lecturer in engineering fundamentals at Michigan Tech; and Rob Fritz, a technical lab coordinator in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech. Fritz helped the team identify and test concrete mixtures.

"Ryan has been working with the team for two years,” Hein says. “He is dedicated to the team and spends up to 10 hours a week with them after school."

"Ryan helped them develop technical writing skills and experimental process skills; he has emphasized the importance of science and math in high school and showed the team how their classes will help them be successful in college. He has truly been a mentor to the team." Gretchen Hein, engineering fundamentals, Michigan Tech

“Mentoring this team has been a great experience for me, too,” Knoll says. “It has helped me develop communication, teaching and presentation skills. The experience may have also given me an advantage while interviewing to be an engineering technician intern at Koppers Performance Chemicals in Hubbell. I look forward to working with the Whiz Kids as they continue their research throughout the next school year."

Joining the Conversation

As part of their research and interest in stamp sand, the Whiz Kids have attended public meetings on Buffalo Reef and Big Traverse. “They were excited to see that using stamp sand in concrete was one of the proposed remediation methods,” Hein says.

Researchers at Michigan Tech will help design long-term solutions for removing mine waste from the shoreline of Lake Superior and Buffalo Reef, an important fish spawning ground. According to one recent estimate, without action more than 60 percent of the reef will be smothered by stamp sands in the next 10 years.

The work is in partnership with state and federal agencies, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, area businesses, community members and stakeholders are approaching the problem of removing a large volume of stamp sands to protect fish habitat, homes and beaches. With creative solutions, the Whiz Kids are joining the conversation.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.