Oklahoma Higher Education Campus E-Clips sponsored by the Communicators Council

January 2012

Northrop Grumman Grant Funds Dig at Rose State


Rose State College expirimental well
Drilling contractors on the Rose State College campus in Midwest City drill an experimental test well designed to teach students about water resource management. The well is funded by a grant from Northrop Grumman.

A grant to Rose State College by Aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman provided for the digging of a water well on the campus to be used for educational purposes.

Rose State environmental science professor Dan Ratcliff said the well will help environmental science students understand important scientific issues surrounding water resources, particularly underscored by the recent drought.

Ratcliff said the well sinks about 35 feet down, into an area of the water table called the “unconfined aquifer.”

Ratcliff said ground water remains protected from the drought because being beneath the ground prevents evaporation. While lakes, ponds, streams and rivers are gone dry due to this year’s drought, ground water remains available by digging a well. However, the threats there are different, he said.

“Is there a direct effect of the drought conditions to the aquifer conditions? It’s a lag time, a big lag time. We’re talking several years,” Ratcliff explained. “Ground water doesn’t flush like surface water does. It’s protected from evaporation. It’s usually not endangered from a drought, but if you have a drought in multiple years, then it can lower the groundwater. Mostly, though, lowering is caused by people overdrawing from it.”

Ratcliff said aquifers in the American West are being drawn down at a rapid rate, primarily for agricultural use. The aquifer most used in that region, which stretches from western Oklahoma up into the Dakotas, is the Ogallala Aquifer, he said.

In central Oklahoma, where the well is being dug on the Rose State College campus, the aquifer is the Garber-Wellington, parts of which are confined, like the Ogallala, and parts are unconfined, like the part below the college.

Ratcliff said the campus well will be used to illustrate to students how flow rate can be calculated so the water in the well can be used sustainably, not just used up. The well will also show how water quality can be tested.

“We can draw out the water and measure how long it takes to recharge the well. You get an idea of the flow from that. You can model the flow mathematically,” Ratcliff said. “Also, we’re going to take water quality parameters and look at nutrients, nitrates, fertilizer and septic systems, which we don’t’ have here — things like phosphates in your water. The quality of groundwater here is usually pretty good.”

Northrop Grumman spokesperson Norm Mejstrik said the project showed “a lot of foresight” among research projects on campus. He said Ratcliff’s project, and other projects funded by the company’s $15,000 grant to the campus, help develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for a future workforce.

Other important pieces of technology funded by the grant include a Thermal Cycler, which helps with DNA research; computational chemistry workstations, used in the fields of pharmaceutical and health science research; bridge and load amplifier sets to help engineering students stress-test load-bearing structures; and important recertification and maintenance on a 3-D printer used in engineering model building.

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