The mystery of the green lake: how to tell children about cyanobacteria

File is hungry: the little cyanobacterium living at the bottom of a Quebec lake has no more food. She is about to leave with her friend Bul in the direction of a green lake that is said to mysteriously appear in the city every year and which is said to be filled with mouthwatering food.

This story aims to better understand the problem of the proliferation of cyanobacteria in Quebec lakes caused, among other things, by the excessive use of fertilizers. File and Bul: The Mystery of the Green Lake, this ecological book for young people written by researchers, benefited from a contribution for the mobilization of knowledge.

The book was presented on October 26 to 70 second-year primary school students. The children came to meet the scientists on the MIL campus of the University of Montreal on the occasion of Microbes en folie day. The children also attended a cyanobacteria seminar with representatives from McGill University’s Let’s Talk Science organization and made a mosaic microbe with mosaic artist Gogofrisette.

Spreading science for children

Three researchers with complementary skills met to explain their work to the children. Nicolas Tromas is a researcher at the Department of Biological Sciences of the University of Montreal, he studies the dynamics of cyanobacteria, their interactions and their evolution in response to environmental changes; Jean-Olivier Goyette, biologist graduated from the University, works on the issues of water quality and nature conservation; Dana F. Simon holds a PhD in environmental chemistry and manages research projects on water and the environment at the UdeM Department of Chemistry. The story was then illustrated by Stéphanie Huneault.

“One chance! We all had small children of four or five,” says Nicolas Tromas. Thus, Samwell and Abbygaell, Emile and Aurel, Anaïs and Béatrice were the first critical readers of File and Bul! They are the ones who helped the researchers check whether the target readers would understand.

Discovering cyanobacteria

“What a party! Nitrogen and phosphorus in all shapes and colors. The favorite dish of our two cyanobacteria! File and Bul continue to gorge themselves just like the other cyanobacteria. Oh there there! They are becoming more and more numerous … “

In the MIL campus library, not a word is said when Nicolas Tromas reads the story of File and Bul. Children of seven or eight listen to him, fascinated. He ends up giving more scientific details, present in the last two pages of the book: “Here is File and Bul! You can see them under the microscope, because they are tiny, about 3000 times smaller than a 10 cent coin! “

The children were then able to observe the two cyanobacteria under the microscope, one thin and elongated and the other rather round.

Better understand how to filter water

Let’s Talk Science volunteers conducted a water filtration activity with the children. The children had to extract nutrients from a group of algae by passing water through the rocks, a cotton ball and gauze. The aim of the experiment was to show that if the nutrients are removed, the water is less polluted. “The goal is for young people to be able to quickly manipulate, touch, get into action with these experiences,” says Bernice Chabot-Giguère, regional coordinator of the Let’s Talk Science program..

For this experience, together with the children there were students who wanted to communicate their love for science. “We want to show that scientists aren’t just men in white coats! We want to promote science and train critical young citizens who will be able to make wise choices supported by facts ”, adds Bernice Chabot-Giguère.

A project that will go on

This book will be distributed free of charge in several schools and libraries. It will then be distributed to schools near the lakes of Estrie and Montérégie. The book will also be translated into English. And the authors are working on a second volume.

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