“Nutrient limitations in the central basin of Lake Erie” may sound dry, but it’s literally the opposite of that.
The Ohio State University junior Madeline Lambrix has spent hours upon hours working with water for her project on limnology, supervised by Stone Lab’s Research Coordinator Dr. Justin Chaffin, as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Scholarship Program. And hanging off the side of a boat with a bucket to collect water samples is actually a pretty wet way to spend a morning.
Stone Lab REUs immerse students in an in-depth research project with a faculty advisor, while taking a course at the lab. The scholarship, funded in large part by donations from alumni and other Stone Lab supporters, covers the entire cost of the students’ five-week stay, including course tuition and room and meals. This helps them immerse themselves completely in Lake Erie science… sometimes literally.
“We were splashing around in the water quite a bit,” says Lambrix, an environmental science major specializing in water science. Her project is studying what factors in the central basin limited the growth of the cyanobacterium Dolichospermum – and researching that requires water. Lots and lots of water.
Each sampling trip takes Chaffin and Lambrix to three or four locations. When she isn’t gathering water with a bucket, Lambrix uses phytoplankton nets, tube samplers and Van Dorn water samplers, which are designed for taking water samples in stratified conditions or near the bottom of water bodies.
“I really like being out on the boat and enjoying the water and just collecting samples and knowing that we’re helping the lake and the community.”
Back at the lab later that afternoon, Lambrix pours the samples into a graduated cylinder and uses a vacuum flask and filter to check levels of chlorophyll a and phycocyanin (a blue-green pigment found in cyanobacteria). She runs other samples through the lab’s nutrient analyzer – a machine that was new to her at the beginning of the REU program but that she’s now adept at operating. She’s also grown more comfortable using the FlowCam, a giant microscope that takes a few pictures each second as samples flow through it.
But learning new equipment was far from the most valuable thing Lambrix is taking away from the five-week experience working in the Water Quality Lab. Working one-on-one with Chaffin has been especially rewarding, as was the chance to present her research to the other Stone Lab students at the end of the term. The talk she gives is practice for the presentations she plans to give on the same topic at conferences such as Ohio State’s Undergraduate Research Forum, she says.
Ultimately, it’s very validating to realize you actually enjoy the work you plan to do for the rest of your life. For Lambrix, that work is identifying drinking water contaminants and discovering new ways to get rid of them.“I really like being out on the boat and enjoying the water and just collecting samples and knowing that we’re helping the lake and the community,” she says. “I’m looking at graduate schools in this type of field. I definitely want to continue to do research in water quality.”