Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 15

Fun time with the new equiptment

Friday and things are in full swing. The microphone was in the lab when I arrived. I had started off working on some content development but when Jason handed me the camera I shifted gears without hesitation. It’s always fun to test out a new piece of equipment and find out its limitations. I took sample footage with audio variations and ran them through the lap top for a baseline. Again the video was great but it was clear that the audio needed work. Luckily the new microphone isn’t locked onto the camera so I set about making a boom for it.


Science has taught me the gift of ingenuity and it’s days like today that call on that skill to make things work. I didn’t want to affix anything directly onto the new microphone so I used several pieces of lab materials to construct the boom. In the end it wasn’t pretty but it was functional. Listening to the audio before the boom, in comparison to after, gives pardon for the less than appealing composure.


Once satisfied with the modifications to the new equipment I set about filming team biographies. Each member of the team was required to state their name, position, job responsibilities, length of employment with the team, educational background, related employment history and a note of scientific wisdom.

Simple enough except for the most part people are not comfortable being filmed. An entirely new personality comes forth with nervous ticks and uncontrolled habits. I am no exception to the rule which is why I find more comfort behind the lens controlling the scene. Sean and Sara both asked for reprieve from the lens until Monday and of course there is no issue with waiting. In the interim, Disha worked on editing the lab methods segments that I had already shot as well as trimming out today’s bios and I’ll keep plugging away on content.


With another week checked off the plan for next week is set to finish bio and methodology videos in the first half of the week. During the second half of the week the process will be repeated with the USGS side of the team. Along the way Disha will keep editing, while Dan and I will hopefully be able to get content material written.

Some days the phone just needs to be put on ice!

Day 14

It may be a good time to explain why I am publishing this blog otherwise it may come off as more than a bit egocentric to write about the happenings of my day, every day. It began several years ago when I earned a position on the Lake Guardian COSEE (Centers for Oceanographic Excellence Education) Ship and Shoreline team. I was one of three on the blogging team in addition to regular researching. The purpose of the blog on that expedition was to keep the team connected to friends and family back home since we had such limited communication through the duration of the trip. The following year I was honored to be selected to be the mentor for the other educators onboard. My job also included being the sole blogger for the team. In both instances the blogs served as record for the educators to take their students through the experience. It was also a great photo album of sorts to remember our experiences. During that second year I also worked for the National Park Service as a Park Ranger for the Indiana Dunes. That year I kept a second blog that served as a job description for my students concentrating on environmental sciences. Last year I worked with Brown University in the Miller Woods but was unable to maintain a blog due to the field work hours of the position. I noticed a disconnect in my ability to relay this experience more than any other. Today’s teen is reached in segments of pictures, videos and phrases. When I began to expose my classes to the materials that I produced last summer that were structured in a marketing format, they became interested and made requests for the story of the summer. I was able to provide the story but not to the same level as the previous year’s blogs could provide. This summer I return to the blog in anticipation of the request. Here it’s written in a story format marketed to the target audience on a broad base. I hope this makes clear the purpose of the blog as more than a self-centered public diary. Of course if my friends, family, and colleges, are curious as to what I’m up to this summer, it can serve for keeping them updated too.

On to today: I started off the day with a 3 mile run. It’s been the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures toping over 100 degrees. This morning was humid and uncomfortable when I set off. When I returned the sprinklers were out on the lawn catching just enough of the sidewalk for me to enjoy a little rinse.

Before long I was in the local coffee house typing away and not long after that shooting video in the lab. I picked up a small camera from the IT department and ran practice shots with it for half the morning. I found the video to be of good quality but as usual the audio lacked.

At a meeting in the afternoon I brought up the issue to Jessica and she put through the approval to order a microphone for the lab’s camera. Jason put the order through today and with a little luck and a prayer for Fed Ex, I’ll be shooting bio pieces tomorrow. In the interim, Disha and I worked on the editing software and learned the process in the trial by fire method. iMovie is a great piece of software as it’s very intuitive and we made fast work of it. I look forward to working more on the video segments tomorrow.

In all the fun, 5 pm crept up on me. It was time to head back to the gym for the evening workout. The day ended with a nice, quiet dinner at my new favorite haunt next to campus. I had been craving a good salmon salad for some time and wasn’t disappointed. For as much as I enjoy the work, the campus, and of course the chance to live as an athlete with so many amazing resources all around me I do miss aspects of home.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 13

I opted to save my workout for later so today began with a writing session in the lab. The camaraderie of the lab techs is apparent on these mornings. On a regular basis we have fun joking around while getting the work done. Everyone loves to take a turn on Pandora and we’re all foodies so everyday someone is bringing something to try. Today the techs brought in cookies, pastries, almonds, beef jerky, and pretzel chips. I brought pita and humus along with tomatoes etc. to make them into sandwiches. Tomorrow will be something new. I think after this summer I'll go back to being a foodie blogger :)

At 11 I left to the pool in the field house. I was in awe of the athletic facilities and honored to swim in such a beautiful facility. Perhaps it was this mental high that played a role in cutting another 5 minutes off my ½ mile p.r. time! I can’t believe I swam so fast! Well, fast for me J

Back at work we enjoyed the pot luck lunch before everyone headed off to a round of meetings. I met with Disha and Dan to talk about content on the site and assign tasks. After the rest of the work was distributed it was off to another meeting.

There Caroline Williams was on a conference call to the lab team giving a power point presentation on her research. Our role was to peer review her presentation before she gave it to a live on-line audience. This was peer reviewing at its finest. Everyone on the team gave feedback to Caroline before her big debut. When each of them has a day to do the same, the team will review for them too.

Finally the work day ended with a quick stop back at ICENCA to set up a video equipment and software with Reid and back to the lab to get approval from Jason to use a publication on the website. I’m glad I’ve become familiar with the layout of the campus. With meetings and meetings and meetings I need to know my way around!

I took the evening to become more familiar with the campus and find myself at on the patio of a great coffee house just across the street from the main campus enjoying an amazing salad while the orchestra plays on the lawn. If I need to work through the evening, this is how to do it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 12

Today was a relaxed day in the lab. I came in later than usual since I had a meeting. After the meeting I drove into town and set up my dorm before heading to the local coffee shop to do some writing. After about 2 hours there I headed to the lab to write and catch up. Disha came in and got started on site content while I connected with Reid and Dan and kept writing. Meanwhile Sara worked on photographing the butterflies and Jason was everywhere per the norm. It was a productive day in the lab.

After work I quickly finished setting up my dorm and headed out to the gym. This time I made the trip a run since I was scheduled for 3 miles anyway. I finally found the path connection between the two ponds on campus and had a great time making speed work of it. At the gym I lifted weights and did a quick 4 mile spin. I finished out the day’s workout with a run back to the dorm much slower than the pace I came in.

When I returned to the dorm I found that there were no knives to cut tomatoes for a salad, forks to eat it with or bowls to eat it out of. I settled on a pita sandwich, took a shower and find myself dozing off behind the computer. It is a cool, breezy night and I look forward to a peaceful night of quality sleep. :)
A room with a view

Monday, June 25, 2012

Day 11

Today was another field day out at the Indiana Dunes. Mother Nature was very generous with a mild 72 degrees out in sharp contrast to the past few days in the 90s.  It seems that the team here has had a shift of focus over the course of the past week. Most of the nets over the field sample sets have been damaged beyond repair due to growth from the plants within. The task of finding a way to encapsulate the samples within the netted quadrant is therefore a moot point and has been cast aside for a new project. The new project is a brood of larvae that came from the lab needing to trim down the population size. These larvae are now being used to test the density dependence of population size within a quadrant. 60 stems of lupin were placed in vials of water supported by the lids of rubber made shoe box containers and enclosed in netting. Two sets of quadrants were then inoculated with between 0 and 15 larvae at regular intervals of incremental increase.  The quadrants were then placed outdoor in the shade of a crab apple tree over the weekend. Unfortunately, the stress of being cut, then subjected to the extreme heat of this past weekend was too much for the plants to survive and the vast majority of the plants failed to thrive. There was a great deal of debate as to why the cut lupin in doors survived while these did not. After some time of discussion, a new plan began to form.

One of the 92 data collecting stations
found throughout the park

Each of the 3 sensors at a site is plugged into a USB
port of a laptop and the data downloaded within a few seconds
Meanwhile I tagged along with a team going out in to the field to collect data from the randomly distributed climate data sensors. The objective is to give the general population a better appreciation for these and other data collection stands by providing information on their functions and taking them out of hiding by developing a geocaching activity based off their locations.

We came across this species and were unable
 to identify it. After sending photographs back to
USGS HQ it was identified as a dune cherry.

Revealing and publicizing their locations has inherent risk, however they are already being found and, with little understanding of their purpose, often damaged. It is in good faith that we hope providing information about the benefits that these stands provide damage will be replaced with appreciation.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Perhaps this is an altruistic approach but realistically the portion of the population who would be exposed to the information would be more likely to be seeking answers regarding the functions of the stands for the benefit of knowledge anyway.

By the end of the day we had hiked several miles through some of the more challenging terrain of the Miller Woods including several heavily wooded dune ridges that required us to be on hands and knees to scale the ridge. We joked that we were mountain climbing dune style which wasn’t far from the truth.

Remains of times past can still be found within the park

While our challenges didn’t require ropes or chalk, it did require strategy and technique as we found ourselves tangled in thorns and sliding backwards down a mountain of sand. On the way back to the car we came across a mulberry tree and stopped for a snack when the owner found us and had a laugh. We must have looked like something the cat had found and rejected after our hike in the woods!

We took a moment to enjoy the water's edge and
 gave thanks by stageing an improptu beach cleanup :)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day 10

Today was a meeting, a very long meeting. I had planned on pitching my plans for the educator’s corner of the site again but after 5 hours of meeting time my hamstrings had enough and I couldn’t stay seated any longer. It was interesting to hear of all the groups that have come together to work on the many facets of the collaboratory and their plans for improvement over time. Each group has to maintain their own interests, of course, while the primary functions of bringing information and serving as a portal for connectivity are preserved. It can be a precarious balance. I have faith that the team can manage their charge in good faith.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 9

Jason checks a butterfly before taking it out.
Now it's photographed on each side and from the bottom

Tonight I’m sitting on the bed of my dorm with the fan off for the first time! I’ve grown accustomed to the heat enough that the cool down to the mid-70s was enough to warrant taking the fan out of the window for the chance to hear the chimes of the church bells at the quarter hour. A duck on the pond outside is letting everyone know of its discontent and I love every peaceful moment. This really is far better than any television could provide! This morning’s run was earlier than usual and it was nice to see a different group of runners out. A group of marines took over the dorm this afternoon and I look forward to seeing their PT in the morning. –Ah the church bells. J It’s 10pm. – Work today was fun. I went into the meeting confident, left happy and finished the day satisfied with meeting my goals. Tomorrow is another meeting and I will move forward with the same confidence. On a funny note: Today Jason was getting samples ready for genomics when his vials suddenly began exploding. It seemed a buildup of vapor from the liquid nitrogen that he was using to store the samples caused the tiny vials to explode. We joked that he had demonstrated the need for goggles in the lab but he really did seek them out, with reason too!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 8

What a day! I kicked it off with what else? A run!! 5 miles in intense heat! Still, I was super charged today and wasn’t satisfied.  I spent the work day on the presentation for tomorrow. I feel I made good progress. I have some time in the morning to finish up and I feel confident that it will get done.

A close up of our pupated friend :)
After about 10 days the larva begin to pupate

After work I had planned on going to the pool to stretch out the soreness but only after going back to my car to exchange my computer for the gym bag then hiking a mile out to the pool did I learn that the pool was closed due to heat! It made no sense but I thought it best not to carry on so I went back home, changed into the workout gear and headed to the gym. A spin, a full set of weights and a cool down on the elliptical later and I was feeling very proud of me! Jason and Sara were still in the lab so I headed over to offer a hand. Jason always jokes that Sara is the prime dictator of all things Karner, but today I saw that he may be right! She really does know all the intricacies of the project. After I left them I realized that I had misplaced my dorm room key! Luckily a resident staff had a spare but I still feel very silly for having lost my copy in the first place!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 7

Today was a reminder that I while I do maintain a real hat collection (ask me about this sometime) I also maintain a metaphoric collection that can become a bit cumbersome. The day started off with a run, followed by the drive to the lab where I dropped off the bags of lupin that we collected yesterday. Next I hid myself away in an office to connect to the INAPEF board meeting via SKYPE. After 2 hours of prep work for the 2013 NSTA conference in Indianapolis I had to excuse myself and get back into the lab. There I helped with feeding larvae and separating hatchlings until late into the afternoon/ early evening all the while fielding text messages regarding the PTEF.  Sanity? The absent lab tech Sara has returned and with her comes good musical selection on Pandora! At last we have traded reggae for the Black Keys station and went Blues all day long!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 6

Every net is equipted with sensors for data collection. Some also have sensors inside the net to account for light variation
Today was the first time I was back out in the field since last summer. It’s an advantage to be a lover of the heat on days like today that call for a hike into the forest in 90+ degrees wearing long pants. We went out 3 times, each for only a few hours and not too deep into the forest. I would call the day easy overall in comparison to last year’s work in the Miller Woods. No mile long hikes in, no leaches, no heavy equipment to carry, no duct taping shoes or waist bands!  I’ll take it!! J

Lupin Land!!!
We started out hiking out to the Lupin Fields, or what I called 'Lupin Land.' Essentially it is where we found the largest cache of viable lupin that we could harvest for the lab. We were cautious not to take so much that the plants couldn’t quickly recover. This was of special consideration with the heat of the day and the already weak condition of the plants.

The nets are tapped to bring the karners to the tops for counting

After harvesting, the team ranger took me to a sensor site to explain the system to me. There I came up with a fun idea for an activity for the general public that can be housed on the site and linked into by the ‘Causal Coast’ site- more on that later. 

Noel shows that being an ecologist is a hands-on job!

The team then sat in brain storm mode for a while as we considered how to improve the current housing mechanism of the field study portion. Several ideas have already been attempted and others are currently in prototype. The team wrapped up with a new model that we would begin testing today. I would point out that as I continue to work with more and more research teams I find that this is how the process flows. A general concept is developed and funded but until it goes into motion no one can say how functional the theory will actually flow. As a result there is a space of time that requires ingenuity, innovation, problem solving skills, and lots of creativity. People of envision a scientist as someone in a lab coat with a clip board when the reality is he or she is usually either behind a computer to process data or write a grant or working wondering through Menards looking for equipment to build the project and install it in the field or in the lab. That is to say, scientists are just as familiar with a hammer and screw driver, plus hard drive and drop box as they are with a beaker and incubator. 
A new prototype is field tested
For a final outing of the day the team went to the sites to check the current nets and prototypes along with attempting the new prototype. It was not successful and so the process begins again. J

Army tents are tested as another prototype in the field

Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 5

Only worked a half day today and I won’t lie- it felt good! I have only a few days to handle what amounts to 2 weeks’ worth of personal issues. Everything that everyone normally does after work hours gets held off until these few days that I’m home. I am scheduled to leave town on Tuesday morning and I already feel the clock ticking. I left work early to handle a parent issue regarding a textbook and still made it to a doctor’s appointment on time.  After that it was errands. The meeting that I attended in my half day was exactly what I needed. I was feeling at a loss as to what exactly I was to do. I asked a few people for some direction last week on what was expected of me but I don’t think anyone was really very certain. Today all the pieces came together. I was startled at first, but after taking the rest of the day to myself and contemplating the task I feel more honored than anything, and excited to get underway.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day 4

Frank feeds larvae
Another go about with IT and the problem is finally resolved. The gym emailed Jason to let him know that I can pick up my card and I did so without hesitation. In addition to lab work I also began writing today since I was able to go online and work on my bio. Left over curry from last night made everyone’s mouth water and we spent the day working and talking about food. Fun day in lab land J Before I knew it, it was time to get on the road back to home. Tomorrow will be a day at the dunes.

Took a set of video clips I took today to start storyboarding the videos that will be online later. I tried to post them here but... sometimes technology isn't my friend. I'll try again later :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 3

A great morning run started today followed by a trip over to the lab. On my way to Again I spent the morning there this time expanding my knowledge base into the greenhouse with feeding the butterflies and recording mating events. The afternoon found me in Icenca with Disha talking with Reid and Dan about their role in the project. Disha and I were each given desk spaces in Icenca and we went about trying to get my computer logged onto the internet. Our attempts were to no avail and eventually lead us to the IT help desk were the problem could not be explained but the password reset. Back at Icenca- no connection. We worked off Reid’s connection until we had enough for the day and resolved to solve the problem tomorrow.
When I left the lab today to meet up with Disha I had just closed out a conversation with Jason about the spermatophores of the karner actually providing nutrition to the females as they produced eggs, not to the zygotes themselves! I was considering if this was a novel approach or common in insects when I came across a conversation regarding the kind of atom present in a reaction and the relavance of the number of electrons in the orbitals and I had to smile for my natural nerdy side understood the conversation and my brain shifted to thoughts of placment in the periodic table for reactivity based on valence electrons but before I could get to deep into that cloud I stumbled past a third conversation. This one was in regard to the movement of stars in a plane in consideration as to if the stars themselves were moving, the plane moves the stars or if the two move in conjunction with one another. That one was beyond my scope but it made me feel at home in some aspects. That I could take such a short walk through campus and here such a variety of academia at work was thrilling. It was hot out and I opted to take a short cut through the promise of air conditioning. That was when I stumbled across a building that gave me pause. A science hall complete with a museum of Biodiversity. I ran late to meet with Disha. Sorry Disha! Remind me to show you this hall and you'll understand. :)

For the evening I wondered back to the gym for another go around at a spin and some weights. It took a little convincing but eventually the staff believed that I was allowed to use the gym: another issue to be resolved during business hours. I was also a bit worn on the week of rice and tuna so I allowed myself a trip downtown this evening to a Cambodian restaurant where I picked up fresh spring rolls and curry. I found a chocolate shop for handful of cinnamon almonds and a tiny used bookstore where picked up a small gift for myself too. I know it’s not fashionable to consider an old, tattered book to be a gift but I enjoy it. While I was scanning the titles in the bookstore, savoring the scent of worn paper, a horse drawn carriage passed and for just a moment I felt pulled back in time. What a beautiful corner of the city. What an overall beautiful day!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Day 2

Beautiful walk into work along the trail.

I reported into the lab and worked there throughout the morning on feeding larvae and setting up hatchlings in their new homes. My objective was to fill the role of lab tech so that I may gain a fuller appreciation of the methodologies of the project. Much like a foreign language, the best way to learn a lab’s method is through full emersion.

Females that have mated are placed in their own enclosures to lay eggs

I attended a lunch meeting with a group of people who have been hired to work on the Collaboratory in some way over the summer. It was interesting to learn all the layers found within the project along with the various aspects of education represented in the group. For example, aside from me (a high school teacher) there is a high school student, 2 college students (each at different levels), and several research directors at various levels. I feel confident with such a great team that the project is well managed and will come together with ease. 

This station is used to photograph pupated butterflies
On a “home life” note: I have had dreams about being back in college again. That is to say, living in a dorm, attending classes etc. and what my life would be like in that situation. It seems I have the opportunity to live out part of that dream though it is not as I would have projected. Often people talk about how hard things were when they were younger and how lucky today’s youth has it. In this instance I can remember that my dorm had air conditioning and three prong outlets and... Anyway, it still doesn’t outweigh the knowledge base that I come equipped with this time. Now I know to make use of the resources available on the campus. I would pass that message along to anyone going to a post-secondary education of any kind: become familiar with your surroundings and make the most use of those resources.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Day 1!

Today was my first day working at Notre Dame with the Karner Blue team.  I had met Jessica and Jason once before when I came in for new employee paperwork but today was day one on the job.  Jason and Frank were the only two in the lab. Jason set me to work with Frank right away. Before I knew it I was going through miniature plastic cups with forceps and a thin bristled paint brush searching for what amounted to the smallest caterpillars I had ever seen. Each egg was a pale teal color and easily as small as a pin head if not smaller. The tiny larva appeared hardly distinguishable from a small fleck of dirt save the fact that there was hardly any dirt to be found. I took the first tiny dirt fleck that I encountered to the lab’s binocular microscope and turned pink with delight as I watched it turn its body under the heat of the light. I learned about the coding system used on the lids of each container.




So, what does it all mean?

+6                           Indicated that the egg was exposed to temperatures 6 degrees higher than the constant. This could have also been +0, +2, or +4.

Subscript 2          This is the F1 generation.

C                             The parent generation was exposed to the control temperature.

17                           The numeric representation of the female parent

10                           The numeric representation of the male parent

The lineage of each offspring is recorded for to purposes of genetic analysis as well as to avoid inbreeding within the captive population.

L=2                         There are 2 larvae found in this container

6/8                         The date on which they were hatched and placed into their new growth chamber.

Each growth chamber was outfitted with a small cut of paper towel and a leaf of their favorite, in fact their only, source of nutrition: the lupin. A strict maximum capacity limit of two larvae per chamber was adhered to at all times with the exception of incubation chambers with a maximum capacity of roughly 50. 2 per growth chamber seemed easy to follow at first until incubation chambers containing 20 or more hatchlings began to become more and more frequent and the steps of cup, towel, leaf, larva, larva, label, lid, repeat became monotonous. It was further required that each container created also be cataloged on a data sheet that included all the information on the lid in addition to your initials and the day that the eggs had originally been collected.

After I finished the tray it was time to learn the next lab function: larvae feeding, then butterfly feeding, followed by separating mated females from the rest of the group, egg counting... This was going to take some time to become familiar with all the steps involved with raising a butterfly family.

After working in the lab I settled into my dorm. I’m staying in what I think was a convent or at least a dorm for women that is literally 100 years old. The rooms are old style dorms: 2 beds, 1 dresser, a sink, 2 outlets, and a light with the modern convenience of a ceiling fan. The bathrooms are down the hall and a box fan is provided for the window- no A/C. It’s hot! Really Really Hot!!! It’s going to be in the 90’s again tomorrow. On the good side the dorm is set on one of two ponds nestled next to the campus. I walked around one when I took a tour. I hear they’re each about a mile in circumference. I’ll run tomorrow but for today I went to the campus gym. I’m impressed with the equipment available at the gym but of course! It’s the NORTE DAME GYM!!! Of course it’s going to be nice! The campus is amazing. I had forgotten how gorgeous a college campus can be. Now if I can avoid getting lost...