We Dig Dirt!

Soil Properties—We Dig Dirt!

This week we had a great time playing with dirt! Scientifically we like to call it soil, not dirt, and the young scientists used their inquisitive minds to examine what exactly is in soil. But first, they learned about the ecological, biological and topological factors that contribute to soil formation over hundreds and thousands of years. For example, many of us know that rocks will eventually erode into tiny pieces that become soil. But others of us might not appreciate the role that microorganisms play in soil formation (they help break down organic material such as leaves and other dead bugs) or that soil contains large amounts of air and water.

We need to protect our soil because its important to every living organism on earth. A healthy soil allows plants to grow, and plants are essential to life along our entire food chain. We talked about why farmers care about the field capacity of soil, or how much water it can hold, as this is extremely important for growing the food we need to live!

Experimentally this week students examined 5 different soils (clay pebbles, dried moss, sand, topsoil, and Miracle Gro potting soil). They noticed differences in the soil colors and were able to correlate that color to what is in the soil itself. Dark brown/black soils tend to contain lots of broken down organic material, sandy soils tend to contain many mineral fragments and even parts of shells, and red toned soils might contain high amounts of iron. Students also observed the texture of the soils noting that some soils contain smaller particles than others. Finally, students observed how well soils can hold (or not hold!) water. All of these factors (color, texture, and field capacity) are important in determining how healthy a soil might be for growing crops or how productive soil might be and where it might be found.

Feel free to look more closely at the soil in your own yard now and see what you can find!

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Author

Lauren Koppel

Lauren earned a Bachelor’s degree with a double major of Biology and Psychology from Clark University, and a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During her undergraduate years, she worked in a evolutionary neurobiology lab that studied the neural development of annelids (marine worms), with a focus on the sox family of genes. Lauren loves learning about how the world works (including everything from biology to chemistry to engineering), and is passionate about sharing that knowledge and enthusiasm with others. In the past, she has interned at the Museum of Science, where she educated learners of all ages through hands-on activities, games, and experiments. Other science education organizations with which Lauren has worked include The People’s Science, EurekaFest, and Eureka! of Girls Inc. of Worcester. Currently she lives in Boston, where devotes her free time to playing Quidditch, reading sci-fi novels, playing her ukulele, and enjoying all the culinary delights the city has to offer.

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