Kelsey King ’15, Bahnick Fellow in Ecology, Evolution & Organismal Biology
This week was the busiest of my entire time, lab-wise. We began the final 60-day incubation study. On Monday, I filled and labeled 63 sample vials. Then I made solutions to be used as the experimental substrate. The downside of classes beginning is that I no longer have the lab all to myself. The undergraduate research assistants are back. On the plus side, I do have a small team of students that can help me wash my dishes–amazing! I still peel labels and remove the peat soil, though. I’ve been there with the uber-dirty dishes, and it’s not fun.
Tuesday was the big day. The day where all the solutions were completed and added to the experimental vials. Then the vials were sealed, and all CO2 was removed from their air. If I messed anything up here, I could ruin the experiment. It’s not too worrisome, though, because I have plenty of other places where I could make an experiment-ending mistake. Needless to say, after this day I was exhausted.
The next day the first step was clean up. All these solutions made a lot of dishes (too many for the lab assistants to do on their own and keep up with all the other stuff happening in the lab). Then I sampled the gasses inside the vials and measured how much CO2 had accumulated since I cleared the air. And then there was plenty of data to be entered into the computer. I’ve learned this at Cornell: never put off entering data and setting up your analysis.
Morning dishes again on Thursday. However, it was also lab meeting day. We reviewed a paper that is in the process of being published (outside of the lab group, but pertinent to much of the lab’s research). Amazing. Everyone went around and talked both about the good writing that was in this article (which will be published in the Ecological Society of America) and the science. Nothing has been more stimulating than watching the other people in this meeting sharing their expertise, because we all come from different scientific backgrounds, and discussing ingenuity and the flaws of this experiment. The amazing part was that I even got to contribute something useful to the discussion. Being a part of discussions like these are invaluable experiences that just aren’t quite the same as in a group of undergraduates.
Back to my experiment again where I added moisture to our incubating samples because we don’t want the moisture levels to drop beneath a certain percent, since moisture is very important in the bog system when it comes to the function of the decomposers. The peat we’re using features a depth approximately 30cm below the water and up to 20cm above the water. This sample peat therefore has all sorts of decomposers that work best at varying moisture levels from underwater to baking in the sun. Since moisture is not a variable we’re testing, we need it to be consistent.
Friday! Dishes again. Unfortunately, the lab assistants are not in on Friday mornings and so there is no one to kindly get to my dishes before I have a chance to. Then we reviewed data, looked at the methods I’ve written up, and flushed our samples to prepare for the Saturday sampling. Working on Saturdays is a bit creepy because the building tends to be pretty much empty, but I do love working in the building when it’s quiet. Among other things, I’ve discovered that when people talk to me while I’m working in a lab (as opposed to the field), I tend to mess up.
Iowa State University is vastly different from Cornell College. Instead of the huge, welcoming, close community I feel at Cornell, there are small pockets of community and friendship here. I always knew I loved Cornell and that I’m lucky to have found the school, but I never imagined how much I would’ve disliked being an undergraduate at a large public school. I definitely found the right school for me.
Professionally, however, I do think I would enjoy working at a large school. There’s so many interesting projects going on all the time, and having access to all the wonderful scientists in our lab and in the same building is really great. I’m going to make a point next week to pay a visit to a few other labs while I’m here, just to see what they’re like and meet more researchers.