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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ASU internship-2016

Hello! Welcome back to my blog.

Since this blog went on hiatus least December, I completed my time at PC and was offered (and accepted!) a research internship working for Dr. Becky Ball @the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, ASU West. Dr. Ball is a sustainability scientist and biogeochemist whose research is focused on the relationship and role of microbial and invertebrate organisms to carbon and nutrient dynamics in soils. Pretty exciting stuff!

I have included a link here to Dr. Ball's bio, lab info, and publications: http://www.public.asu.edu/~rball5/ .

As I am a research assistant, I will be working on part of an ongoing project of Dr. Ball's that is studying the changes in chemistry during the decomposition of plant detritus. This project aims to identify how changes in chemistry during decomposition affect the overall process; more specifically, myself and Miranda, the other assistant assigned to this project, will be measuring hemi-cellulose, cellulose, lignin, and phosphorous levels in leaf-litter samples obtained from various locations around North and Central America. Analysis of the samples will be conducted using a number of methods, including a thermal reduction method as well as sequential acid digestion. Details on the processes and how the data obtained relates to the project to follow on a later blog, as that portion of the study is set to begin later this week.

My first week in the lab was comprised of various activities. Miranda and I prepped litter samples for both distribution to other labs, as Dr. Ball's study is a cooperative one, and thermal reduction for our own later analysis. I also assisted on two other projects working out of the lab. The first, a leaf-litter decomposition project, is being conducted by PC's Dr. Elena Ortiz and Matt Haberkorn. We constructed a number of leaf-litter bags of various mesh sizes, packed them with sycamore tree leaf detritus, and installed them in a compost bin at PC; Elena and Matt will be extracting and analyzing the microbial and invertebrate organisms from the samples as the project progresses.

Nikita, another research student, is doing a project that studies how nitrogen and phosphorous deposition affects microbial communities in soil. To that end, I was invited to join Nikita and Dr. Ball for some field work around the Phoenix area. We spent a full day taking soil core samples from two desert research sites that have plots that have been treated with a nitrogen additive. We also took samples from adjacent control plots that have been left untreated. Nikita will later compare these samples in the lab for their N, P, and microbial content.

The work this first week was, simply put, fun. I love doing field work. Being outdoors and getting down in the dirt in pursuit of knowledge is my idea of heaven. The work done off-site was productive and was also notable for how many times I was able to get a cholla burr embedded in my skin (including my achilles tendon-ouch!), so it looks like I will be investing in a pair of hiking boots rather quickly.

By the way, thanks to Dr. Ball for having the foresight to bring a pair of pliers. They came in handy for doing cholla spine extractions from various parts of my body.

Thanks for checking in with me. Talk to you soon!

All photos: Usery Mountain Park. Credit: Paul Cattelino




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