Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry supports youth research project

March 13, 2023

In the field of Earth and Space Sciences in the "Jugend forscht, Schüler experimentieren" competition, Naya Weißleder and Janne Henkel investigated whether and how natural snow and artificial snow differ from each other. The two young researchers won first prize with their project "Artificial snow - white magic or a curse for the environment? Comparison of snow types" in the regional competition, which took place in Jena on 23 February 2023. The students received support for the chemical analyses from the laboratory of the "Routine Measurements & Analyses" service group of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry.

Naya and Janne are a tried and tested team of joung researchers: they had already taken part in the "Jugend forscht, Schüler experimentieren" competition a year earlier and analysed the differences between various types of sand in the world. Their curiosity, their interest in natural sciences and their joy in research were further fuelled by this. Since they both like to ski and follow winter sports in the media, they noticed that there were no more typical winter landscapes to be seen, only white ribbons of piste in the middle of a snow-free environment. Naya and Janne found out that snow is now produced artificially in large quantities. The idea for the new research project and for the second participation in "Jugend forscht" was born.

How do the two types of snow differ from each other? Does it make sense to produce artificial snow so that winter sports enthusiasts can continue to enjoy skiing? What impact does the production of artificial snow have on the environment? These are just some of the questions Naya and Janne asked themselves.

The two school students obtained artificial snow from the Oberhof winter sports area and collected natural snow from their home town of Jena. To examine the properties of snow more closely and find out about any differences in composition, the two had the idea of analysing snow in the laboratory. Our institute and the Routine Measurements & Analyses service group were a starting point for this.

Ines Hilke, head of the laboratory, remembers the two curious and motivated pupils with pleasure. "They came to our measuring laboratory to examine their samples and to find out which ingredients they could detect with our measuring instruments. At first impressed by the technology, they put on the lab coats themselves after a lab tour and prepared their samples for measurement. They asked a lot of questions and after a short time were able to recognise chemical relationships that were previously unknown to them."

With the newly acquired knowledge in their luggage and the understanding of the different analytical measuring instruments such as ion chromatography system or sum parameter analyser, they drove home and waited anxiously for the results of their samples.

From the school side, the two pupils were mentored by Ms Katrin Honka, a trainee teacher at the Carl-Zeiss-Gymnasium Jena. "The project with Naya and Janne was my first Jugend forscht project and also a bit of a challenge: How do you explain complex chemical processes to two 5th grade students in such a way that they understand the measured values from our school laboratory? I was amazed at the energy with which the two of them carried out measurements at our Carl-Zeiss-Gymnasium after 4 p.m."

With their prize, Naya and Janne qualified for the national competition, which will take place in Jena on 31 March 2023. In the meantime, the two are working on an extension of their research work. Naya and Janne will then present the results at the Thuringian state competition. We are keeping our fingers crossed for them!

Addendum on 1 April 2023: Naya and Jane won 2nd place in the "Geosciences and Spatial Sciences" section of the "Schüler experimentieren" age group at the state competition JugendForscht! We are happy for them!

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