iUTAH Undergraduate iFellows
Week 2 Recap
May 22-28, 2017
The past week has been fairly interesting. I have spent minimal time in the lab; which primarily consisted of more lab specific training. Lately, we have been working on developing the bio-retention bays in the Green Meadows housing development. This mainly consisted of hauling wheelbarrows of dirt into the bays, followed by compost. We have also developed a method to insert and remove a pH probe into the ground to monitor pH levels over time. I have also priced out and ordered the IDEXX equipment I will need for microbial analysis so next week I will be able to start collecting samples and testing them. We have already developed a method for collection and I have access to the biology building to use their IDEXX sealer. Dr. Dupont and I have also talked to Dr. Weidhaas at the University of Utah to perform species of origin analysis for the microbes we find in the samples. She will be visiting next week to show us the method after we collect from the wastewater treatment plant on Thursday.
This past week was great! We were able to go into the field Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to collect discharge and water quality measurements. The weather was awesome and we practiced using the equipment and recording data. This week also helped me think about the challenges in finding field sites in a watershed that is primarily private property. Dr. Null helped me clarify my research question and think about how I will address it. Looking forward to more great days in the river!
This week I worked with Andy on narrowing down a research question and establishing data goals and collection methods. I met with Susan Durham this week to discuss data needs and the best ways to analyze the data we collect. I also met with Michelle to talk about the project. Andy and I also made a list of equipment we will need for field research. I completed the p-card training and submitted research expense approval forms.
This week Dr. Rosenberg has been out of town. I have been working very closely with my near-peer mentor Jim Stagge and emailing Dr. Rosenberg for essential questions. Together we have been able to get me closer to establishing a worth while research question for my summer project. Jim and I have been working to gather the information necessary to organizing and building the Bear River Model. Progress is being made. We now have obtained missing information needed to complete the Utah and Idaho portions of the model.
This week we spent time searching for sites to visit in the Weber Basin Watershed. Most of the sites were located in Morgan and Summit counties where we spent three days taking measurements such as velocity, discharge, temperature and specific conductance. We also described vegetation, geomorphic conditions, and completed a pebble count at each site.
This week was productive and fun as my mentor Mark returned from a conference, we had our second cohort session and learned all about poster and presentation. I liked the iFellow workshop we had with how to present ourselves and practicing improv. Throughout the week, we finalized the 30 different blocks which we will be sampling and collecting data from and took a walk around campus to get more familiar with about 85 different tree species. Friday was our first day sampling and it was beautiful weather which always makes field work more enjoyable.
I got to meet the second grad student this week, and get briefed on his project. I'm also getting to know the people in my lab a lot better, and understand the dynamics of the lab. This has put me in a position where I'm being more involved in the lab and field work, which helps as I become more familiar with the specific techniques for sampling and testing of trace metals. Our field work on Thursday (5/25/17) was very enjoyable, although shorter than expected. We hope to be able to start extracting soil water next week, and take more soil core samples. If we begin to see success in our efforts to extract soil water, it would be a big break for the team.
Although not directly related to iUTAH, while I was home for Memorial Day weekend. I went to my cousins wedding in San Diego. During the reception, many of my aunts and uncles were curious about what I was doing for this summer. I felt very smart as I explained to them what iUTAH is and does, and what my research team is doing. They had many smart questions for me and I was impressed with myself as I was able to answer most of them after only being involved with iUTAH for only two weeks.
This week I continued to read a literature on plant water use efficiency. I starting thinking about my individual research project, and Bill sent me some published papers relating to the topic I’m thinking of focusing on. On Thursday, the whole lab adventured out to Red Butte Garden to identify species for one of the experiments we’re doing this summer. It was really nice to get outside and walk around the Natural Area and Botanical Gardens. I’m excited to take measurements with the LiCor, which we’ll start training for next week.
The iFellows meeting on Monday revealed to me that I was not the only one feeling a little out of depth and totally under-qualified. That being said, both Dr. Bowen and Evan have been readily available for me to ask questions and bounce ideas off of as I develop my experimental design. The Bowen Lab is exploring the hydrology and salt-crust thickness of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the West Desert and a big question I discovered we have is whether the area is a discharge or recharge site. To determine this, I have been tasked with developing an experiment using fluorescent dye tracers to lead us towards answering this question by helping us address where the water is going. I have never been responsible for developing a methodology and supplies list before so I was nervous at first. However through additional reading and discussion with my mentors, I was able to come to a conclusion on what would be the best way to study the tracers. To supplement my time once the experiment is complete, I will also be aiding in analyzing the geochemistry of core samples from the Salt Flats with one of my colleagues. Everyone has been so encouraging and welcoming that even my lack of understanding and points of discomfort are easily overcome thanks to the community at the Bowen Lab.
This week I was able to read a lot about protocols to measuring toxin. I spent all of Tuesday reading and finding articles on measuring and how to get specific toxins that we will be testing. On Wednesday and Thursday I got to work on the data sheets. I learned how to read the data, and learn how to make a master sheet by making a lot of little sheets, and than combining all of them into a master sheet that is more simple to read. On Friday we got to go to Utah lake and sample the water there, except it was way to windy and dangerous to actually go out. The waves were five feet high and it felt like we were on a rollercoaster. We came back to the lab and learned out to Quality Control (QC) instead. Which I really enjoy doing with all the coding and making the data usable for scientists that actually need good quality data. And that was my second week on my research project!
This last week we were supposed to take some samples from Utah Lake, but the wind was so bad that it was not safe to be out on the water. I was fortunate enough to do some additional reading through the week on cyanobacteria and the cyanotoxin that they can produce. I was also trained on QC for the data collected from the GAMUT stations. I'm not a huge fan of it, but I can see why it's important. I was also able to learn more about some cleaning procedures using UV light and our autoclave.
This week flew by! I have been able to get a lot done but there is still so much to research and so much work to do. The first thing I have been working on is a GIS map of the weather forecasting areas within the United States. The forecasting areas are not organized according to state lines, but use geographic boundaries and county lines instead. This week I began to organize the counties to visually show what the forecasting areas look like. I’ve sent a picture of the maps I have so far. The end goal is to show the total population served under each of the forecasting areas.
My own research has really taken off this week! I’ve narrowed down my population/research area to the southwest United States—specifically the forecasting areas that directly boarder with Mexico. I was able to use county level census data to calculate the total Hispanic population within each forecasting area. This will help me set criteria for which National Weather Service tweets I can look at and give me a higher level of reliability later on. Here is what I found (percentage is the Hispanic population of the area):
- Brownsville (89.225%)
- El Paso (58.25%)
- Midland (51.16%)
- San Angelo (not super active twitter account) (31.4%)
- Corpus Cristi (58.85%)
- San Antonio (42.55%)
- Phoenix (41.56%)
- Albuquerque (46.04%)
- Vegas (23.26%)
- Sacramento (22.42%)
There were several other forecasting areas that I wanted to use but the twitter data we have access to won’t reach far enough back to be viable for the study. I need data from June-August of 2016. We can only go back about 3000 tweets before information becomes inaccessible. If the forecasting service is on top of their Twitter game then occasionally I won’t get all the data I needed.
The majority of this week was spent in research and finalizing sample collecting protocols. Friday we hiked to two rivers and took our first samples for testing. Testing begins next week.
I started this week feeling prepared to feel completely unprepared. After meeting with the other iFellows on Monday, and hearing that almost all of us were feeling underprepared, underqualified and overwhelmed, I gave myself much more license to be new to this and to not know everything. So, on Tuesday when I got to learn to use the gas chromatograph in our lab, I wasn’t too upset when my first few runs didn’t go particularly smoothly. However, by the end of the day I was getting consistent runs and felt much more comfortable using the instrument independently. I also put the finishing touches on all of the gas collection chambers I have been building and testing in the field has shown they are functioning as we had hoped. All and all I feel vastly more prepared to undertake the rest of the project after this week, than I did at the end of last week. My mentor, Michelle, has proven to be a great teacher and mentor, and I think it is largely due to how kind, encouraging and welcoming she has been that I feel so ready to move forward, even though there is still much I don’t know.
All content provided on this iUTAH Team - Undergraduate iFellows weekly recap is unedited, updated by each participant to provide a review of their progress, and is for informational purposes only.