When Stone Lab’s Dr. Kristin Stanford walked into first-grader Sophia Schroeder’s classroom nearly 15 years ago, Sophia remembers being mesmerized.
“Stone Lab had always been a part of our community, our backyard neighbor teaching us about the environment,” said Sophia. “But it was at that moment I saw why the island I lived on was such a unique place and that I could do my part to protect it.”
Holding a Lake Erie Watersnake, Stanford talked to Sophia’s Put-in-Bay Elementary class about why the native snake was important to the Lake Erie ecosystem and what steps she and her fellow South Bass Island residents could take to help the federally-threatened species.
As Sophia grew, so did her Stone Lab encounters, with an overnight field trip to the lab in fifth grade where she pulled up water samples from the lab’s research vessel Gibraltar III and a high-school limnology class focusing on Lake Erie water.
But it was a science fair project she developed her senior year that truly got her hooked on her future career in water research and brought her back to Stone Lab.
“I was really curious about how plastic microfibers — those fibers that wash out of your clothes — affect microorganisms in freshwater,” explained Sophia. “I found research for saltwater but nothing on how microfibers would affect organisms in freshwater so I did my science project on it.”
That novel research concept caught the attention of Stone Lab researcher (and science fair judge) Dr. Justin Chaffin and over the course of two summers, Sophia worked with Chaffin as a volunteer researcher to expand her microfiber research at the program’s water quality lab.
When the time came to decide on her future university and major, Sophia knew biochemistry — a mixture of her two Lake Erie passions of biology and chemistry — was her major and the place to do it was the research epicenter she already knew, Stone Lab’s parent, The Ohio State University.
But Sophia’s backyard neighbor came knocking on her door again with the opportunity to take on one of Stone Lab’s competitive Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) water quality projects where she could study the effects of light and nutrients on benthic algae in Lake Erie.
Now finishing up her third year at Ohio State, Sophia is starting to apply for internships and already feels prepared. “I am so grateful to Stone Lab because what these natural resource agencies want from their applicants is experience — experience in using water quality equipment in the field, logging in data and assessing that data — all the tools I got from my time at Stone Lab.”