Diving Into Research

Diving Into Research
Stone Lab helped these CFAES students start seeing their futures in science.
CFAES student Madeline Lambrix nets phytoplankton samples
“I like knowing that we’re helping the lake and the community.”Madeline Lambrix

By Lisa Aurand Rice and Kurt Knebusch 

“Nutrient limitations in the central basin of Lake Erie” may sound dry, but it’s literally the opposite of that.

Madeline Lambrix, pictured above, now a junior Environmental Science major in CFAES, spent hours upon hours last summer working with water for her project on limnology, supervised by Stone Lab’s research coordinator, Justin Chaffin, as part of the lab’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Scholarship Program. And hanging off the side of a boat with a bucket to collect water samples was actually a pretty wet way to spend a morning.

The REU program, based at the lab on Lake Erie, immerses students in an in-depth research project with a faculty adviser, while also taking a course there.

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,” said Lambrix, whose specialty within her major is water science.

Her project studied what factors in the central basin limit the growth of the cyanobacterium Dolichospermum — and researching that required water.

Lots and lots of water.

Lambrix and Chaffin, aboard Stone Lab’s R/V Gibraltar III, bottle a sample for testing.

Each sampling trip took Chaffin and Lambrix to three or four locations. When she wasn’t gathering water with a bucket, Lambrix used 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.

Back at the lab later in the afternoon, Lambrix poured the samples into a graduated cylinder and used a vacuum flask and filter to check levels of chlorophyll and phycocyanin, a blue-green pigment found in cyanobacteria.

She ran 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 became adept at operating.

She also grew more comfortable using the FlowCam, a giant microscope that takes a few pictures each second as samples flow through it.

Lambrix, looking ahead: “I definitely want to continue to do research in water quality.”

One on One

But learning new equipment was far from the most valuable thing Lambrix took away from the five-week experience working in Stone Lab’s Water Quality Lab.

Working one-on-one with Chaffin was especially rewarding, as was the chance to present her research to the other Stone Lab students at the end of the term. Her talk was practice for the presentations she plans to give on the same topic at conferences such as Ohio State’s Undergraduate Research Forum, she said.

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 said.

“I’m looking at graduate schools in this type of field. I definitely want to continue to do research in water quality.”

Oppliger at Stone Lab: “I couldn’t be happier with my decision to spend my summer on the lake.”

Hooked for life

Andy Oppliger was in the REU program, too. For his study, he asked the question, How well do walleye see when algae or mud cloud the water? Walleye, a Lake Erie game fish, feed by sight.

Using equipment called an optomotor apparatus, Oppliger, a junior Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife major, tested walleye in large indoor tanks. He ran several two-hour trials per day, recorded data and took care of the fish.

REU students get hands-on training and “the kind of experience they need as they move forward in their careers,” said Oppliger’s adviser, Suzanne Gray, assistant professor in CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Oppliger, for his part, said the connections he made at the lab “will last a lifetime.”

Marshall holds a cedar waxwing, named for its red feather tips. Waxwings, Clay said, “look like they were designed by a computer, and printed out without a scratch on them.”

birds in the hand

Stone Lab’s REU students also included Stacey Clay, a senior Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife major, who studied breeding birds in nature preserves on islands near the lab.

On a typical day, Clay and Rockford University’s James Marshall, her research adviser and a Stone Lab summer instructor, motored by boat to a study site, hoisted bird-catching nets, collected data on American robins, red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings and others, and then safely released them.

Clay later analyzed and reported the data; it could help determine which bird habitats to protect.

Marshall said the REU program is a “great way to get introduced to research.”

Clay said, “I loved coming up to a net and seeing a new bird I’d never caught before.”