How do we science?

Lab Life- Winter Edition

As anyone who’s watched Shark Week knows, marine science can be pretty glamorous.  It’s easy to envy oceanographers when our office is a coral reef or salt marsh.  But what happens during the winter, when temperatures in North Carolina plummet to a frigid 26 °F (shut up New England) and we’re stuck in our labs and offices?  Let our decidedly un-Instagram photos clue you in!  And if you’d like a mental vacation to prettier backdrops, check out our photo compilations from the Galapagos, Gulf Stream, and the Florida Keys.

Justin

This winter/spring semester has been 100% lab based for me. I always post on here about the field research  that I do in the Caribbean, but 90% of my time is spent in the lab or in my office trying to get/analyze data. Every coral core we collect from the field has to be CT scanned and then some poor soul (me) has to sit at a computer and identify every single annual band on it. It takes forever.

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Just a few of our hundreds of coral cores!

Additionally, I spent most of last year extracting DNA from corals, isolating it, and amplifying it (PCR). The end result of 6 months of lab work was a tiny tube full of about 0.5 ml of sample. That tube contained coral and algal DNA from hundreds of samples. The tube was submitted to our on-campus sequencing facility and they have sent me the results. Unfortunately, the results are not a nice easy to read and open excel spreadsheet. Due to the shear volume of data they generate, everything is uploaded to a supercomputer and must be manipulated from there. My task for the next few weeks is going to be working this data up into something presentable at the UNC Climate Change Symposium that will take place at the end of May as well as the International Coral Reef Symposium in June.  Basically, I will spend my entire semester in front of a computer in hopes of creating a few figures that might mean something to someone. Anyone who tells you that science is glamorous more often than it is tedious is lying. Good thing I really love coral!

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My cluttered desk complete with dual screen. One contains data in excel and the other is being used for coding. Note the obvious lack of windows.

 

Kathleen

Winter has been all about sample processing and data analysis!  The last few months have been decidedly indoorsy, but I’m not complaining.  It’s kind of exciting to see all that data finally start to tell a story, even if that story sometimes feels like a dime novel.

My lunch. Kidding, kidding- these are sediment samples after I've dried them in an oven. This is only a temporary reprieve for these poor guys. After I weigh them, they'll be put into a combustion oven to cook at a balmy 525 degrees C! All this will ultimately allow me to calculate sediment parameters like porosity (the % of the sediment that's taken up by space instead of, well, sediment).

My lunch. Kidding, kidding- these are sediment samples after I’ve dried them in an oven. This is only a temporary reprieve for these poor guys. After I weigh them, they’ll be put into a combustion oven to cook at a balmy 525 degrees C. All this will ultimately allow me to calculate sediment parameters like porosity (the % of the sediment that’s taken up by empty space or water instead of, well, sediment).

 

Today's activity, which may or may not have inspired this post topic: mopping the environmental chamber! This is best done while pretending to waltz with the mop.

Today’s activity, which may or may not have inspired this post topic: mopping the environmental chamber! This is best done while pretending to waltz with the mop.

 

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And although I’ve been spending a lot of time at my computer, my office happily includes fish, plants, and a window! (Sorry Justin.)

 

Shelby 

As a first year student my life has been a little different than Kathleen and Justin’s over the past few months. Not only have I been running a ton of data analysis, I have been taking a full course load and am a teaching assistant for Introduction to Environmental Science. This does mean I get outside to teach labs but also lots of grading! I am definitely ready to get back to my own field work.

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Working in my office cubicle isn’t so bad when R is cooperating! My current job: making some pretty graphs for my manuscript. There is also lots of coffee involved! 

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Some of my students measuring cross-sectional area and stream flow for a Watershed Hydrology lab. See…we do make it outside sometimes in the winter! 

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One thought on “Lab Life- Winter Edition

  1. Pingback: Does temperature dictate which corals can survive on a reef? | UNder the C

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