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Measuring Water Quality to

Understand Human Impact
Lesson plan and more resources are
available at:
Activity Overview
In this project, students explore how fertilizers and other solids that dissolve in water can
impact water quality. Students are placed in the role of field scientists collecting data
using a DIY Electrical Conductivity Sensor. They use this sensor to measure total
dissolved solids in water samples from several test sites to assess the health of a
watershed and analyze the potential sources of pollutants.

View the full lesson plans mapped to NGSS and ISTE standards, materials and activities
to support this unit at

Build and Learn Contents

Students build an Analog EC Sensor to examine the electrical conductivity of a range 02 Activity Overview
of materials. They categorize the materials as insulators or conductors and then
03 Analog EC Sensor
examine the impact of adding dissolved solids to a water solution on the brightness
of an LED. This activity can be completed as a standalone project or advance to the 04 Digital EC Sensor
building of the Digital Electrical Conductivity Sensor. 11 Connect Microcontroller
12 Upload Board Code
14 Preparing Water Samples
Connect Your Tools and Calibrating EC Sensor
The Digital EC Sensor is made by students from inexpensive materials and used to 13 Excel Workbook Basics
measure the total dissolved solids of a water sample in parts per million (PPM).
Students can then visualize and store the data from their sensors on a customized
Excel workbook.

Visualize the Data Hack our projects

This lesson uses a custom Excel workbook that includes two worksheets for We love innovation and
investigating and visualizing live data. The first worksheet, Water Samples, allows encourage you to hack our
students to measure and save data from community water sources or commercially projects and make them
packaged liquids. The second worksheet contains a model ecosystem with scenarios your own. Submit your ideas
that emulate possible sources of pollutants associated with today’s human activity. at


EC Sensor

Things you’ll need to build
Materials Toolkit
2 biodegradable cups scissors
1 jumbo LED pen
2 AA batteries ruler
1 2-AA battery holder
3 double sided alligator clips
2 10 cm strips of copper tape
1 coffee stir stick
Deionized water
Baking Soda

Making for a group or need help finding materials?

View the shopping list to calculate quantities and links to materials at:

Test electrical conductivity of aqueous solutions

1 | Put your 2 AA batteries into the battery holder. 2 | Attach one of your alligator clips to the black (ground)
wire on your battery holder.

3 | Attach another alligator clip to the red (power) wire on 4 | Attach your alligator clip from the red (power) wire on
your battery housing. your battery housing to the longer leg of your LED.
Then attach another alligator clip to the other shorter leg of
the LED.

5 | Use a can or another object you would like to test and 6 | Attach the loose alligator clip wire to the other side of
attach the black alligator clip wire to one end of the can. the soda can. Repeat this process for other materials. Be
sure to include insulators and conductors.

Test electrical conductivity of everyday objects

1 | Measure and cut two 10 cm strips of copper tape. 2 | Use a pen to make a mark 2 cm from one end on both
strips of copper tape.

3 | Peel the copper tape from the entire backing. 4 | Take one of the strips and align the 2cm mark to the lip
of the cup with the longer end entering the inside of the

5 | Secure the copper tape to the cup. Make sure the cup is 6 | Use your stir stick to align and secure the other strip so
clean and dry. that it is centered directly across from the other copper strip
and repeat steps 4 & 5 with the second strip.

7 | Your cup should now look like the photo above. 8 | Attach the positive and negative alligator clips of the
Analog EC Sensor to the copper tape terminals on the cup.

9 | Attach your ground alligator clip to the black (ground) 10 | Attach another alligator clip to the red (power) wire
wire of your battery pack. from your battery pack.

11 | Attach the loose alligator clip from the battery holder 12 | Your setup should now look similar to this photo.
to the longer leg of the LED and the other loose alligator
clip from your cup to the other shorter leg of the LED.

13 | Attach the loose alligator clip from the battery holder 14 | Make a mark 1 cm in on the stir stick.
to the longer leg of the LED and the other loose alligator
clip from your cup to the other shorter leg of the LED.

15 | Obtain a cup and some baking soda. Pour some baking 16 | Wet the stir stick at the 1 cm mark you just made.
soda into the cup.

17 | Tip the baking soda cup and insert the stick until the 18 | Place the stir stick in the water and stir.
line your made in step 14 is submerged.

19 | Repeat steps 17 & 18 until your LED starts to glow. Be Great Work! You’ve successfully created an analog
patient, this may take a while. electrical conductivity sensor and have been able to pass an
electrical current through a solution. You’re now ready to
make a digital EC sensor!


Why is the solution able to pass an electrical current?

An electrical current can only pass through a solid object. When solids are dissolved into a
liquid it increases the ability to pass a current through it which is why the LED illuminates.


Electrical Conductivity Sensor

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Things you’ll need to build your EC Sensor
Materials Toolkit
1 biodegradable straw scissors
2 coffee stir sticks pen
2 17 cm stainless steel wire (28 gauge) ruler
2 pin ended alligator clips wire cutters
hot wax melt tool
clear tape

Making for a group or need help finding materials?

View the shopping list to calculate quantities and links to materials at:

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1 | Mark your straw at 14 cm. 2 | Cut your straw at the 14 cm mark using the inner part of
your scissors so the straw does not crack. Set aside both

3 | Next, mark your coffee stir stick at 13 cm. 4 | Cut your stir stick at the 13 cm mark.

5 | Repeat steps 3 and 4 to create a second stir stick 13 cm 6 | Using your hot glue, run a thin line of glue along the
in length. length of one of your stir sticks.

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7 | Quickly press the sticks together until the glue has 8 | Measure and cut two lengths of 17 cm stainless steel
cooled. wire. Straighten out the wires the best you can.

9 | Center your stainless-steel wire on your stir stick and 10 | Center your other wire opposite the first. Tape the wires
1.75 cm off the end of the stick. onto the stir sticks.

11 | Tape the middle and opposite ends of the sticks to hold 12 | Push the stir sticks with wire into your 14 cm straw.
the wire in place keeping the wires centered on the sticks.

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13 | Measure to make sure your wires stick out of the end of 14 | Check to make sure your sensor looks like the photo
the straw at the 1.5 cm mark. above.

15 | Dab some hot wax inside the end of the straw where 16 | Next, glue the other end of the straw to completely seal
your wires stick out about 1 cm. the inside of the straw and let dry.

17 | Bend the longer ends of the wire as shown in the photo 18 | Bend the longer ends of the wire as shown in the photo
above. This gives the alligator clips a better connection above. This gives the aligator clips a better connection once
once attached. attached.

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Make a guard for your sensor

19 | Measure and cut your other length of straw at 3 cm. 20 | Pinch the 3 cm straw so that it is flat.

21 | Cut the straw at the creases made from pinching the 22 | Dab hot glue on the inside and at one end of the 3 cm
straw. cut straw.

23 | Quickly place the sensor onto the straw guard with the 24 | Awesome! You’ve completed the EC sensor. This
guard sticking out just past the wire ends. component will also be used in the next activity!

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Things you’ll need to connect
1 Arduino Uno microcontroller
1 completed Digital EC Sensor
1 USB cable type A to type B
1 prototyping breadboard
3 breadboard wires
1 100 ohm resistor

Making for a group or need help finding materials?

View the shopping list to calculate quantities and links to materials at:

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Flash the Arduino

1 | Install the Arduino IDE from the Technical Requirement 2 | Go to and download the flash
link on the lesson page at or through code.
the Microsoft Store. Follow prompts to complete the

3 | Open your downloaded file to launch the Arduino app. 4 | In the Arduino app, select: Tools > Port > COM 3
(Arduino/Genuino Uno). Your port may be different than

5 | Then select Tools > Board: Arduino/Genuino Uno. 6 | Click on the circular right arrow button to upload.

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Connect the microcontroller

7 | Connect the EC sensor by placing the pin ends of your 8 | Insert your 100 Ohm resistor into the breadboard as
alligator clips into the breadboard. shown.

9 | Connect your breadboard to the Arduino with the 3 Congratulations!

breadboard wires. You’re ready to connect to Excel and calibrate your EC
Sensor. You’re one step closer to measuring and visualizing
the impacts of dissolved solids in water supplies.

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Get ready to visualize data
To run the Data Streamer Add-in, make sure you meet these technical requirements:

• PC running Windows 10 and Excel 2016 (Desktop)

• Data Streamer Add-in: Update your existing copy of Microsoft Excel 2016 with a free add-in to support real-time data
streaming from your projects available at:
• Customized Excel Workbook available at:

Once you have downloaded the Data Streamer Add-in, open up Excel and get yourself acquainted with the UI:

To connect your Arduino, you need to

plug in your device to your computer via
USB and then click “Connect a Device”

Once your device is connected, select “Start Data” to begin

streaming data into Excel. If you do not click “Start Data”
when your device is plugged in, you will not see any live data.

If you have recorded and saved a data file (.csv),

you can import it with this button

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Preparing water samples
and calibrating EC Sensor

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Things you’ll need to build
Materials Toolkit
6 gallon jugs of deionized water commercial salinity sensor
5 plastic cups pen
1 completed Digital EC Sensor computer
USB type A to type B cable
Paper towels
Baking Soda

Making for a group or need help finding materials?

View the shopping list to calculate quantities and links to materials at:

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Prepare water samples for testing

1 | Use a commercial EC sensor to make sure that the water 2 | Obtain five of the containers and label the lids 0 ppm,
in each container has a reading of at or near 0 ppm. If not, 200, 400, 600 and 800 with a permanent marker.
the water will need to be replaced with deionized water.

3 | Obtain the jug with lid labeled 200 ppm add a small 4 | Replace the lid and shake the solution for a few seconds.
pinch of solute to the container.

5 | Insert the commercial EC sensor and wait for a consistent 6 | Repeat this process for the remaining containers so that
reading. Repeat steps 4 & 5 until the EC meter reading is the ppm readings match their respective labels on the lids
within + / - 3 ppm the target 200 ppm reading. and then label the sides of the containers with the
permanent marker.

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Calibrate your EC Sensor

1 | Download and open up the Conductivity Excel 2 | Connect your EC sensor’s Arduino to your computer with
Workbook. a USB cable. Then open the Arduino app and open the
EC_sensor.ino file

3 | Make sure the Board and Port settings are correct in the 4 | Obtain 5 cups and label them 0 ppm, 200 ppm, 400 ppm,
Tools dropdown menu. 600 ppm and 800 ppm.

5 | Fill each cup with corresponding solutions to a level of 6 | With your workbook open, duplicate the following table
4 cm. on a new tab. You will save this file in the format your
teacher has instructed.

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7 | Place your EC sensor into the 0 PPM water sample. 8 | Wait for a stable voltage reading on the left side of the
workbook. Enter that number into your Excel data table by
the 0 PPM column.

9 | Remove your EC sensor and shake off any remaining

water on a paper towel. Repeat steps 7 & 8 for your
remaining solutions.

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Analyzing your data for calibration

1 | In Excel, highlight your data table and include both 2 | Click on newly created chart and select the Chart
column headings and then click on the Insert tab in the Element icon (green “+” sign)
ribbon and select the Scatter Graph icon.

3 | On the dropdown menu for the chart elements select the 4 | In the Format Trendline more options menu, select the
Trendline checkbox. Next, click on the sub-menu arrow Display Equation on chart checkbox.
alongside it and select More Options.

5 | The chart now displays the Trendline equation written in slope-intercept form. The slope of the line (highlighted in the
photo) is the Calibration number that gets transferred to the Water Sample workbook. It is entered into the Calibration
Value cell. This number allows Excel to display the measured voltage as PPM values.

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Excel workbook basics

Temperature and EC calibration In order to get accurate data, you will need to enter a temperature and calibration factor in
both workbooks. There is a default temperature reading which is room temperature (25° C) and we encourage the water
samples to be at room temperature, but it is not needed.

Electrical Conductivity in Local Water Samples This workbook gives students the opportunity to collect water samples
from their area and study the different PPM readings. Students can then infer the pollutants in these water samples and how
to reduce the total dissolved solids in the water supplies. This workbook also saves a time stamp of the data into the “EC
Sample History” tab. This means that teachers and students can collect and study water samples over a long period of time.

Water Runoff Activity and Zone Ecosystem In the previous workbook, students learn about local water supplies and infer
about their immediate surroundings and the impacts. The Water Runoff workbook helps students visualize the bigger picture
of an entire water table. Teachers may lay out five cups all representing the different zones in the water table. Then, students
may take their EC sensor and take readings of all the water samples. They can then infer about the different pollutants that
each zone may produce and how they can mitigate the pollutants from contaminating the water supplies. On the bottom
right corner of the workbook, students can visualize the impact that pollutants have on the ecosystem in that zone. They will
either see a thriving fish filled ecosystem or they may see a barren ecosystem with nothing but skeletal remains.

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