University of Michigan-Dearborn researchers along with teachers and students from Detroit Public Schools have kicked off a research project, funded in part through an award from AT&T, to study potential soil pollution in a residential area of southwest Detroit.

The project, called the “Delray Initiative,” is a collaborative project between the Geoscience Institute for Research and Education at UM-Dearborn, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision and the Detroit Public Schools. The project is being funded by an award given to the researchers by AT&T.

Late last year, AT&T announced that the researchers at the university had received a 2010 AT&T Technology & Environment Award. UM-Dearborn is one of three universities nationwide being recognized, and will receive a $25,000 cash prize from AT&T. Kent Murray, GSI director, led the winning research team.

“We’ve designed this project not only to introduce students to environmental studies and to encourage community service, but also to show them how much possibility exists with wireless technology,” Murray said. “By exposing at-risk and underrepresented minority students to these sciences and community service, we hope to encourage them to continue their studies not only though high school, but beyond.”

Throughout the summer, the researchers and students collected soil and spider web samples from approximately 1,000 homes in the Delray community. Delray has been home to large industrial complexes and has been shown to be a highly polluted area. By using geographic information systems and iPhone GPS technology, the students will be able create maps based on the soil and spider web sample locations to show the extent of pollution. 

Over the next 12 to 18 months, the samples collected from these sites will be analyzed for a suite of 14 common and trace metals — including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, nickel, lead and zinc- – which are the most common metals associated with today’s industries.  The findings will then be presented to the residents in the area and used in future studies of the impact of highly industrial areas on our environment.

“This award is possible only because the Michigan Legislature, and Rep. Rebekah Warren, have emphasized and enacted policies encouraging investment in education and technology” said James A. Murray, president of AT&T Michigan. “This project, designed to foster innovation between our academic institutions and researchers, is exactly what is needed to make our planet a more livable place in the future.”

AT&T judged applications from individual faculty members and teams representing higher-learning institutions from around the country. Selections were based on the strength of research showing how businesses can reduce their environmental impact through use of ICT products and services. These products and services could include mobile connectivity; wireless relay networks; and even two-way smart grid communications solutions.

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