Schools, University partner with Water Works near Lake Erie to conduct research

Hannah Benson and Hannah Benson

A partnership between the University and Big Island Water Works in Sandusky has opened the door to an off-campus research center, which is projected to begin before summer.

William Balzer, project facilitator and vice president of Faculty Affairs and Strategic Initiatives, said the project will launch “shortly after” it is approved by the Sandusky commissioner.

The opportunity arose when the former city commissioner approached Balzer in 2013 to see if the University had any interest in using properties at the lake.

Faculty from both main campus and Firelands campus will use the center for basic research.

“It will build stronger bridges between the faculty and students,” Balzer said.

Balzer said this is a nice opportunity for Firelands because they have a research-active faculty, but no laboratories.

“A lab on the bay will allow students to participate with the faculty,” Balzer said.

Professor of Biological Sciences George Bullerjahn said the research center allows him to work on a more focused project that will explore the toxic algae blooms that occur every summer in the Sandusky Bay area.

He said he would be working with fellow Professor of Biological Sciences Robert McKay this summer and next summer on the project.

“I hope through this partnership we can understand how the bloom reacts to nutrients and learn how to control toxic blooms in the future,” Bullerjahn said.

Bullerjahn will not only be working with Mckay on the research, but two graduate and two undergraduate students as well.

One of the students who is already set to work with Bullerjahn over the summer is Victoria Hunter.

She said she will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with a specialization in Marine and Aquatic Biology in December.

Along with the other students working on the project, Hunter said she expects to take samples from Sandusky Bay and learn more about the cyanobacteria blooms.

“I am very excited to be part of this project,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how this information will be used to determine toxicity and possible health concerns in the future.”

In addition to aiding the education of University students, Balzer said he hopes the site will be available to any K-12 student group from the community to observe.

Balzer said they are trying to benefit everyone in the community with the center.

“Water is so important to this community,” Balzer said. “This is a great opportunity to deepen the relationship with the city of Sandusky and to bring research into the community.”

Sandusky Mayor Dennis Murray Jr. and City Manager Eric Wobser were instrumental in moving the project along, Balzer said.