Blacks Run restoration, wireless lawnmower among symposium topics

Shanna Murphy stands in creek with net for catching fish.
Shanna Murphy nets fish with Kevin Weissgold in Blacks Run as part of her study on the health of the creek that runs through Harrisonburg. Weissgold will be continuing the project next year.

Efforts to improve water quality in Blacks Run are working, but attention to the stream that runs through Harrisonburg must continue, says a JMU senior who has been monitoring the creek and recording data this year.

Shanna Murphy, an integrated science and technology major from Fredericksburg, will present her findings Friday, April 5 during the annual ISAT Senior Capstone Project Symposium. And for those looking for ways to reduce time doing yard work, ISAT major Jeff Davison has the answer—a wireless, remote-controlled lawnmower. The symposium will take place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in the ISAT/CS and Health and Human Service buildings on the JMU campus east of Interstate 81.

Murphy said Blacks Run has shown particular improvement in areas where the banks have been restored and trees have been planted. Of the four locations she has been monitoring since September, the most urban location—adjacent to the Water Street parking deck in downtown Harrisonburg—has the worst water quality based on aquatic life counts and water samples. The stream is healthiest where it runs through Purcell Park, where much of the stream restoration effort has occurred. The southernmost monitoring location was in an agricultural area between Harrisonburg and Mount Crawford.

Murphy's samples have included general water quality parameters such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, acidity and specific conductivity. She also has taken macroinvertebrate counts and did a fish species survey with some help from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

"There was definitely more species diversity at the sites south of the urban site," she said. The macroinvertebrate count at the site adjacent to the Water Street parking deck was 4.25 specimens per square foot whereas the count at the other areas ranged from 11 to 19 specimens per square foot, she said. Macroinvertebrates are organisms that lack backbones, such as insects and crustaceans, and are large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

While there has been improvement in the water quality, just one of the four monitoring sites has an acceptable grade according to standards set by Virginia Save Our Streams, said Murphy. Murphy will give her presentation at 11:15 a.m. in ISAT Room 150.

Davison, a senior ISAT major from Front Royal, has the perfect solution for anyone not fond of pushing a lawnmower around, although his motives for building a wireless, remote-controlled lawnmower are much more altruistic. Davison had people with disabilities in mind.

"Independence is a key aspect of everyone's lives and in some cases this is unachievable," said Davison. "Disabled persons sometimes, if possible, choose to live self-sufficiently, but there are still those everyday tasks that come along with being self-reliant, such as lawn work."

Other than putting gas in his mower, little work will be involved. Davison started with an electric-starting gasoline-powered push mower and built a frame around it. He then attached wheels powered by two 24-volt wheelchair motors and built controllers. He said the mower can be operated up to 100 yards away.

A remote will control the mower, which Davison designed so the rear wheels operate independently of one another to enable the machine to go forward, backwards, right and left.

Davison, who did all the programming to make the controllers work, will give his presentation at 1:45 p.m. in Room 1210 of the HHS building. Weather permitting, he may demonstrate the mower outside.

Altogether, more than 50 student projects will be presented at the symposium. The schedule of presentations can be found at http://bsisat.jmu.edu/documents/symposium2013.pdf.