Senior Research Earns Accolades

Did you know that Montgomery County, Great Falls, Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis all have recently banned the use of crumb-rubber as an infill for their athletic fields?

Bishop O’Connell senior, Kit Shiells, has been researching the potential negative environmental effects of artificial sports surfaces like this since she was in middle school, when she entered a science fair with a project that compared the air temperature and surface temperatures of turf vs. grass. She continued this research in her junior year, taking advantage of O’Connell’s Independent Research Program, and working under the mentorship of Biology teacher, Mark O'Connor, to extend her study by focusing on bacterial presence in artificial turf fields with natural infills like sand, pea gravel and cork compared to the traditional crumb rubber infill.

This past year, Kit has directed her research to analyzing the chemicals leached from new crumb rubber infill, old previously-used crumb rubber infill, and the newly marketed eco-friendly Thermoplastic Elastomeric (TPE) infill at typical ambient and surface temperatures on artificial turf fields. She was able to meet with George Mason University and Virginia Tech professors and work with graduate students to use their laboratory and equipment to complete the research necessary for her senior project.

"I feel fortunate to have been able to work with these labs and these people," said Kit. "It was an amazing experience."

The environmental concerns with crumb rubber infill that were the focus of her study were two-fold. One is the leaching of heavy metals into groundwater which can affect many people through wells and drinking water, and the other is the crumb rubber’s runoff into storm drains, creeks, streams, which can directly affect aquatic life and ecosystems.

“The new TPE eco-friendly infill was designed to preserve the safety of surrounding groundwater and was recently used for the resurfacing of Nike Park in Great Falls” she added. “Having previously played on the Nike Park soccer field with crumb rubber infill, and then this year with the new TPE infill, I have noticed a different playing surface."

This spring, Kit’s project earned her a first place in the NOVA Regional Science Fair (Environmental Science Category). Her project was also recognized with the following society awards:

  • 1st place - Federal Water Quality Association
  • 1st place - Graduate Women in Science
  • 1st place - Patent and Trademark Office Society
  • 1st place - Society of Women Engineers
  • 1st place - Stockholm Junior Water Prize
  • 1st place - Virginia Water Environment Association
  • 2nd place - American Association of University Women
  • Honorable Mention - American Association of Mechanical Engineers

Kit is heading to Case Western Reserve University this fall, where she has committed to play soccer and plans to follow a pre-med course of study.

Kit Shiells and Mark O'Connor show off science fair win