I can’t believe we are half way through the program already! The time here has been going by so fast but I’ve been enjoying every minute of it! The picture above was taken when we all went out to dinner one night with two other girls who are here for the summer in different programs, as well as Yida our REU coordinator! It’s been a blast getting to know them all and we have definitely bonded more than I ever would’ve expected.
Since the last time I posted, a lot has happened. I’ll paint you a word picture.
We finished our proposals which included writing up an overview of our research for the summer: introductions, methods, schedule of work and the underlying questions we were looking at. Mine was centered around a polypeptide known as trileucine. There is so much dissolved organic matter within the ocean and only less than 10% of all of it is actually characterized. Learning more about trileucine and how it cycles through the ocean is beneficial because we can learn which microorganisms control its cycling as well as observe how important it is to the ecosystem. Organic matter gets held in the sediments under the ocean over time and knowing how it cycles through the systems now, we can better predict how they will cycle in the future or discover how they cycled in the past.
So far, I’ve done a bunch of filtering of sea water which if anyone knows, it’s about as fun as watching paint dry. It can take days to filter sea water depending on how much you collect. After the filtering, we performed a process known as SPE (solid phase extraction), which is about as much fun as filtering sea water. The filtering allowed us to separate out the heavier molecular weight dissolved organic matter (DOM) that we didn’t want. Then after we filtered, the SPE allowed us to collect the DOM that we did want and hold it in this cartridge until we were ready to collect it and dissolve it in methanol. I haven’t done any analysis yet of the DOM but that will probably come next week. This week I also started the low-concentration trileucine incubation. Essentially, I collected some more sea water from the ship channel and am letting it sit to see how fast it will degrade. I had to add some stock trileucine to the samples so that way when we analyze it, we can see what’s happening to the trileucine in the water as well as how pure trileucine reacts and degrades. I’ve been taking samples incrementally at 0, 2, 12, 24, 48, 96, & 168 hours. I just finished the 24 hour sample this morning. When I take the samples, I collect 1mL of water from the specificed incubation time, add some formaldehyde to preserve it and stick it in the fridge. Then I filter the rest of the water to separate the DOM and sea water and keep both of those and preserve them in the freezer. I am anxious to actually analyze all these different processes I’m doing!
I got to go on a sampling trip with Kaijun and John (the grad students in Zhanfei’s lab) for their research studies. You’d be surprised how easy and straightforward those things sound in the lab until you actually get out to the field. We sampled from 5 different rivers around the area which was a lot harder than it sounds. Since it doesn’t rain here too often, the rivers are very low and the paths to get to them are very steep and the mud very slick. It was an interesting day for sure!
We had a panel of students/profs come talk to us about grad school which was very informative. I’m really glad the program had this set up for us because there was so much about grad school I still had questions on and things I needed to know for application processes.
This past weekend we got to meet the other REUs that are from UT Austin. It was interesting to get to hear about their research and hang out with them for the weekend. We had a bonfire on the beach which I think is the epitome of island life. We also went out on the boat this weekend with them and got to catch some fish and smaller organisms.
We have various meetings throughout the week to talk about ethics or go to seminars and hear about the research others are doing here at the Institute. Everything is an essential part to the whole and I’m glad for all the experiences so far. I’m excited keep researching and do some analysis of the processes I’ve been doing so far. Stay tuned!