Changing Seasons and Focus

This has been a long year and it has been around a year since I last wrote an update about my research. It turns out that after a long process, I have decided to change directions. I have switched from Wally Fulweiler’s coastal biogeochemistry lab to Nathan Phillips plant physiology and urban metabolism lab. I have also begun a new position as a visiting fellow at the Harvard Medical School in Pamela Silver’s lab. Instead of monitoring changes in the field, I will be focusing on smaller scale processes within plants and microbes and it’s definitely a whole new world.IMG_3406.jpg

I spend most of my time now learning molecular techniques such as running different kinds of gels, doing PCR, and cloning. When not at my new bench space (which I’m excited to have :), I’ve been meeting with Nathan Phillips on the roof of the CAS building scouring pipes, fans, and boxes for GHG fluxes.

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It’s a whole new perspective and I’m super excited! I’ll be sure to stay more up to date as things progress!

From the Field to Functions

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to post. I had a great finish to the field work for my LIS project. The spring sampling went well and we collected everything we needed, plus we went out one more time to collect some extra sediment samples.

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Maria and Rob were with my on my last field excursion, which was really exciting! Maria took some awesome action shots, which I am very grateful for!

She also got a great video of me taking a core.

We also got a bit creative on our last sampling trips. First we took some samples from the inside of one of the old holes we found from a previous core, which we took over a year ago! It’s at least important to understand the impact we have on the marshes we study. This was the contraption we used so we could measure how deep the core hole still was and take samples from a certain depth.

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Then I also got to do some acrobatics in sampling from a leak in the sewage pipe at Udalls Cove.

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Yes, it was gross, and we all took showers right after that!

Now that all of that’s done, I’m leaving behind the field for now and moving into the world of sample and data analysis, so from the field into the functions to figure out what’s fueling these marshes!!

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National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship!!!!

I woke up on March 30th to one of the best texts I have ever received, “Congrats on NSF!!” I hadn’t even checked my email yet and one of my dear friends told me I had been chosen to be one of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellows!! It was the best way to find out. I applied back in November and it was a very long process, but this means that I have my own personal funding for the next three years. I can be much more independent and focus more on particularly what I’m interested in. It’s also a very prestigious award.

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I particularly want to thank Wally Fulweiler, my current advisor, for helping me through the application process every step of the way and writing me a letter or recommendation as well as Selena Ahmed for all her advice throughout the years, teaching me how to really do science, and writing a letter or recommendation. Also thanks to Colin Orians, my previous advisor who is a wonderful person and gave me a chance and Lucy Hutyra who also recommended me for the fellowship.

This is an incredible honor and I am so excited to start my new project on algae!

Potato Panic! Science Night @ Lincoln School, Brookline

How often do you get to see a little one’s face literally light up? 🙂

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This picture was taken towards the beginning of a Girls Science Club activity, but by the end Maria was a flurry of hands switching the cables, adding pennies, connecting alligator clips between positive and negative nails.

Last week I coordinated the Girls Science Club and the Biogeoscience Outreach Committee visiting the William H. Lincoln Elementary School in Brookline, MA. Six of us piled into our department van with our gear and signs and made our way over to set up a sediment drainage experiment, phenolics visuals, and a potato battery experiment. I mostly stayed at the Girls Science Club potato experiment and we got a ton of traffic!

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It was an intense two hours on a Friday night, but totally worth it. We definitely got it down by the end. Angela and I would have the kids making basic circuits, understanding that the current goes from negative to positive, and lighting up light bulbs with batteries. Then we’d send them to the potato/fruit side of the potato where Divya and Will would explain why potatoes can also light up little light bulbs and the different kinds of nails that had to be used.

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It’s funny to think back to when I was making circuits and lighting up light bulbs. I remember not understanding how circuits work, so it was great to, with that in mind, try and explain it to kids. Some of them really ran with it. There was one kid who worked through when we ended until the last moment when we had to take the last volt meter, light, and battery he was working with before walking out the door. It was truly inspiring.

This is a related, inspiring side story, but the weekend before this I spoke to a close friend who grew up in this area. When I was telling her about the Girls Science Club that I’m running and the Science Night, she made a point of telling me that people like me make a huge difference to these kids. She remembers the cool college kids who would come and do science experiments with her from all the universities near by and felt like they really influenced her perception and experience. It was absolutely thrilling and very encouraging to hear!

A Winter Marsh

There are places in this world where humans are not naturally supposed to go; space, the ocean floor, inside the earth, and, in my opinion, salt marshes in the middle of winter.

The big field season for any ecological study is the summer months. Not only are there fewer classes for studies being done through universities, but the weather is lovely. The spring and fall are workable, but very few people do field work in the winter. Consequently, there is a lack of information about what happens in the winter. To attempt to fill that gap, my studies is a seasonal study. I am supposed to go out during every season to measure nutrients, respiration rates, decomposition rates, and other factors related to marsh health. It is a great thought and sometimes you have to be tough to get good data, but sometimes, even with the best intentions and determination nature can have the last word.

Alia and I tried to go out into the field last Thursday and I have to say that overall, it was definitely not a success at least. We were barely able to collect any samples, ultimately didn’t visit all the sites, and have to go back, but we did get incredible pictures:

Here is the description I sent my professor (The numbers reference pictures that can be found below): At the first site, Barn Island, there are usually a lot of pools. These pools were frozen, but the top 4 cm or so was actually slush if not just water (1,4). We walked through it going to our site. The whole top of the marsh was very flat and frozen over with wet snow on top (5), but near the creeks there were a lot of huge, frozen, broken ice slabs (3,9). The only open water part was near the restricted area (2). When we got to the area near my sites, we found all of them thanks flags I had put, but there was almost a foot of wet snow or ice, probably at least 6 inches of ice to get down to the ground and we had to really hack at it to reach it (6,8). The ground itself had plant matter on it, which seemed to be held in place by the ice if it was far enough from the creek, and was very wet. I don’t think it was frozen at this site as we were able to push in a ring to one of them (8,15), though it required occasionally slashing the ground when you broke through the ice and really pulling up a lot of grass and dirt. We also couldn’t maneuver around much if you hit a shell.

At Jarvis Creek, I think the tide comes on top of the marsh more because the ice on the top of the marsh might have been a little thinner, but it was completely frozen. There was no snow and we were just walking over ice. There were also a lot more huge slabs of ice up on the top of the marsh (10,11,13). It was still hard to hack through the ice sheet though and once we did dig a hole, it immediately filled in with water (14). I tried to scoop out the ice, but it came in too quickly. I could see it coming in in dirty plumes from the side of the hole. It made it impossible to really search around in the hole, so we couldn’t find the litter bags. The ground itself also seemed to actually be frozen. There was actually grass poking up through the ice in places (16) and a few small holes in the ice to the ground, but it was entirely frozen there and I couldn’t get a ring in. One interesting, though very sad, part of this site was that we saw a bird across the creek who was dying (12). We tried to get it out, but it died before we were able to get it (17). At Barn Island we met a lady who particularly commented that there were a lot of dead birds at the site and wondered if we were studying them.

The field work was really very intense. It was hard to hack through the ice and I was pretty frozen by the end of it. While it was frustrating, I was almost happy to turn around. Alia was really a trooper though!! Thanks so much Alia!! Here’s some pictures and a video of what it took to hack through the ice:

I also have to say that Alia was very brave when it came to the duck. She went over and was able to get it out of the creek and put it back up onto the reeds:

Overall, it was not something I would attempt again without a different goal, but it was a good experience. Though I should also mention that by the next day I was sick and had re-injured my knee, which has been bad for years :/ Hopefully we’ll have better luck a little later in the season!

Silica Science of the Snowmageddon!!

As many people probably know, Boston has been hit incredibly hard by the last few snow storms. Being a scientist stuck inside for so many days, I couldn’t help but peruse some of the historical records of snow fall. Already this season is number 10 out of all winter seasons for snow fall with a total of 73.9 inches. What’s crazy is the fact that this all came down in just 17 days. This means we have now broken our previous 40 day record in 17 days. Currently we have around 37 inches just sitting around and I’m sure we are not done. In fact, it is still flurrying and on Thursday we are supposed to get more snow.

What this means for me/science is that all of the schools here have been closed and the T has been shut down. BU has had 5 snow days so far, including tomorrow and our whole transportation system was shut down during the first storm and will mostly be shut down tomorrow. Even though the snow is going to stop some time tonight, all rail service is shut down so the MBTA can catch up, clear off all the ice, assess the damage, and fix everything.

In an attempt to ameliorate this situation, my professor told us, don’t come in to work, but collect snow samples! I took advantage of this request and the driving ban (not only could no one park on main roads, but no one could drive anywhere) during the first storm and trekked 4.5 miles across Boston/Cambridge/Somerville collecting snow samples. Here’s a picture of my journey and all the places I collected snow:

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It was amazing. There was no one on the roads besides a few odd groups with sleds or skiis. Being incredibly scientific, I carried around little plastic bags I pushed fresh snow into, wrote on with a sharpie, and kept outside in a little black bag to keep them frozen:

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Back in the lab, these samples will be thawed and analyzed for silica. This is an element on the periodic table, Silicon (Si), that is normally found in an oxidized form (silica = SiO2) in nature. It is an essential nutrient for plants as it can be found in large quantities in all plants and makes plants stronger and more resistant to stresses like disease, insects, and toxins. Most likely there is very little silica in these samples since silica does not have a gaseous form and therefore would not be “washed out” of the air as some other elements are (e.g. nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur (SOx)), but it is always good to check! We will also see whether my transect from Boston to the more suburban Tufts University (my alma mater) area shows anything different. I will report back with the results!!

Everyone has favorite pictures they have taken during the past few weeks, here are a few of mine:
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a) A car after the first two snow storms b) A parking meter I must admit I didn’t pay at and c) the day it snowed inside of my car.

I hope everyone is staying safe and warm!

Holiday Science

I have decided that some things, including ginger bread houses, are not just for kids or, graduate students are still kids, or there’s very little difference between kids and adults. It’s probably a combination of all of the above.

At BU, there’s a rather confusing set up in terms of departments/programs. The Earth Science and Geography Departments merged to form the Earth and Environment Department (E&E). There’s also an interdisciplinary Biogeosciences Program between the Biology and E&E departments. Here’s a schematic I drew for my sister to explain it. The light green “SB” is me.

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We did this at the end of last semester, so it’s a little out of date, but the Biogeosciences program has a lot of events to bring together everyone in its program. As a creative attempt to do this, we had a holiday party where we built a ginger bread house. This wasn’t just any ginger bread house. This was a ginger bread house surrounded by all of our field sites. Being a group of stressed out graduate students right in the middle of finals, this creative outlet of a break was brilliant. We wasted no time turning the large cardboard pieces into a masterpiece of various candies and colored icing. Here is our house:

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Everybody contributed their own section to this masterpiece. Mine was a salt marsh:

IMG_6537Specifically, this is a salt marsh in the fall because all of the Salicornia have turned red/purple. If you haven’t guessed from all my photos of Salicornia, this is my favorite marsh plant, sorry spartina.
Betsy made a lovely log bridge over a mud patch leading to a lake:

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These are pictures of what we called the dirty back and picturesque front. On the left we have the dirty back with a snow experiment and a few forest experiments along with a miniature version of Betsy on her computer (for all of the GIS/R people doing “underwear science” as some ES/Bio people call it. Science you can do in your underwear). On the right you can see the picturesque front of our ginger bread house with the lake, salt marsh, heart be-speckled mud patch and bridge, and meadow also in the fall. The actual house has a few aluminum solar panels installed on it.

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We had an amazing time making this. Perfect study break. Thanks Pam and Amanda for planning it!