John Lempke, an NMT senior and Bureau of Geology Bright Star Scholar, instructs a Hot Springs High School student on preparing water samples for alkalinity titration.
Photo by Bonnie Frey


A program just getting underway at New Mexico Tech is enlisting area school students to research the quality of water in Socorro County.

Geochemist Bonnie Frey at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources is overseeing the new program, made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“Last summer I received funding to purchase a new instrument for my analytical lab here at the Bureau,” Frey said. “Part of the grant is intended to support this new outreach program, the NMT Water Resources Education Program, to educate high school students about their local water resources.

“We are mainly a water chemistry lab, but we do other testing as well,” said Frey, the lab manager. “The new spectrometer is especially suited for running metal analysis. The Optical Emission Spectrometer will allow us to work with samples that are high in phosphates or high in rare-earth elements without much sample prep.”

The funding for the outreach program is for a two-year period ending in August 2023. Frey said the intention is to find more funding to turn it into a long-term program to continue collaborations with the high schools.

“We have invited three area high schools who will sample their local water sources, analyze them in my lab, and visit NMT staff and faculty who offer educational water activities,” Frey stated. “We are also gathering materials that can be used for teachers to use regarding water resources that we will offer on a Bureau of Geology website, along with recorded video segments by our staff and faculty.”

JD Kersey from the Science Café checks a sample of well water from a stock tank near Magdalena.
Photo courtesy of Jim Sauer

Students from Socorro High School, Hot Springs High School and Magdalena’s Teen Science Cafe are scheduled for water sampling and lab visits at the Bureau’s lab.

“Although we were unable to schedule Alamo Community School this semester, we received a letter of collaboration from them, and we anticipate collaborating with them in the next school year,” she said.

On March 8, a group of students from Hot Springs High paid a visit to the lab at Tech with water samples from Truth or Consequences.

“We ran them through our instruments and they got to go out in the field – the golf course – with one of our aqua mapping hydrologists to measure the depth to water,” she said.

In Magdalena, Frey met with Jim Sauer, the retired middle school teacher who runs the Teen Science Café.

“They had already been doing some water sampling up in the Magdalena area, and on April 1, our staff and a couple of faculty members from the Earth and Environmental Science and Biology departments are going to go up and sample some stock tanks and source water, either a well or spring,” she said. “And then they’ll compare the stock tank samples with their well water samples. They’ll talk about water quality and do some comparisons and then with the biologist along they’ll be looking at any kind of animal life, bug life, and microbe life associated with water at those locations.”

Sauer said the Magdalena kids will take water samples from 10 wide-reaching sites, from stock tanks to private wells.

“These kids, at the end of this two-year program, are probably going to have in the neighborhood of 40 hours of outdoor research, using chemistry and learning the equipment,” Sauer said. “I really appreciate Tech for doing programs like this.”

Frey said this kind of outreach is an integral part of the Bureau’s mission.

“We work regularly with student groups from high schools, and actually even younger than that,” she said. “It’s an important mission for us to reach out to schools and help educate our kids about geology and water.” Frey added that the Bureau also hosts the Rockin’ Around New Mexico Field Trip, a three-day geology workshop for K-12 teachers every year.

Students from Socorro High School will be visiting the Bureau’s lab on May 1, bringing samples from Socorro’s water for testing.