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Analysis of Phosphorus Concentrations in a Natural Water System


This guided research project explores the chemistry and impact of phosphorous on a fresh water system of lakes connected by a river in south-central Wisconsin. Students begin this project by comparing the detection limits, matrix effects, and linearity of standard curves of two different spectrophotometric methods for measuring phosphorus. Once the method of choice is validated, students work in groups to design and carry out experiments to explore the chemistry of phosphorus and its impact on the environment. They learn to use some of the tools necessary for water quality analysis including a Secchi disk and an Ekman dredge. Visible spectroscopy serves as the primary vehicle for learning, although the research projects sometimes incorporate ICP-AES, HPLC, and ISE measurements if students take their research in that direction.


Table of Contents

  • Instructors Manual (Word, PDF)
  • Project Overview (Word, PDF)
  • Project Introduction Assignment (Word, PDF)
  • Progress Report 1 (Word, PDF)
  • Progress Report 2 (Word, PDF)
  • Final Paper and Oral Report Instructions (Word, PDF)
  • Final Paper Grading Rubric (Word, PDF)
  • Individual Grade Rubric (Word, PDF)
  • Peer Evaluation Document (WordPDF)
  • Student Survey for the Project (Coming Soon)


  • Ascorbic Acid Method for Determining Phosphorous – includes Staff Notes (Word, PDF)
  • Malachite Green Method for Determining Phosphorous – includes Staff Notes (Coming Soon)
  • Practice with Method Detection Limits and Spike Recovery – includes Staff Notes (Word, PDF)

Developed by:

Dr. Pamela Doolittle
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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