Diving Into Research
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”