Should college students know more scientifically?

According to a

new study by researchers at Michigan State University, many college

students are in the dark about environmental basics. This includes

basic knowledge of the conservation of matter and of the carbon

cycle, and could be directly related to students’ understanding of

climate change.

 The study

argues that these biological principles could better prepare

students to deal with important environmental issues such as global

climate change.

 MSU professor

Charles Anderson is a teacher of education, and co-investigator on

the project.

 Together with

lead researcher Laurel Hartley and several others, they studied the

science knowledge of 500 students from 13 U.S. colleges in courses

ranging from introductory biology to advanced ecology. They found

that the students were not quite at the level expected of


The study found

that the students were faulty on basic scientific principles and

concepts, such as those that transform carbon. One of the most

fundamental principles is the conservation of matter, which states

that when something changes chemically or physically, the amount of

matter at the end of the process needs to equal the amount at the

beginning. This basically means that matter cannot simply


 For example,

students had trouble explaining weight loss. They relied on widely

held beliefs that weight is “burned off” or fat is “melted away.”

Instead, the fat molecules leave the body as carbon dioxide or

water primarily through breathing.

 They also

attributed plant growth primarily to the soil, rather than the

carbon dioxide in the air.

 Upon asking

several UNA students some of the same questions, the <a name=

“_GoBack”>issue can be seen here as well. It raises the

question of just how informed this generation is in the face of our

current climate crisis.

 That is the

biggest problem:  how students will be aware of

climate change and other environmental issues.

 Dr. Richard

Statom, professor of geology at UNA, offers a slight


 “For a

layman’s understanding of climate change,” argued Statom, “the nuts

and bolts of the carbon cycle are helpful, but not


“Climate change

is much more political in nature. Trying to figure out whether our

own industry has caused higher carbon dioxide levels, and how that

can be managed, is more of an issue,” Statom added.

 He agrees that

while students going into fields directly related to the

environment—those in ecology or biology for instance—should be well

versed in natural laws. The average student would do well to watch

his or her own carbon footprint.