Tuesday, June 27, 2017

This summer, I’ve been working as an evaluation intern at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History. My main project so far has been remedial exhibit evaluation in the Next of Kin exhibit. Exhibit evaluation is how museums figure out what people are learning from exhibits, and the evaluation is remedial because it's taking place while the exhibit is completed in its final form and open to the public. The exhibit I've been evaluating, Next of Kin, is an exhibit on the anthropogenic extinction crisis. An artist from outside the museum designed the exhibit, and it primarily focuses on presenting endangered and extinct animals very directly to museum-goers in ways that force them to face, sometimes literally, the creatures humans have harmed. The exhibit includes artifacts such as a skeleton of the extinct Moa, a preserved ear from an endangered species of whale, and large, striking heads of different kinds of deer whose habitats are threatened. The exhibit has a lot in it, and there is a strong intended narrative about the role humans have played in mass extinction. To see which of the items are eliciting responses from visitors and whether the message comes through clearly, I track and interview visitors.
the deer heads positioned so that you look at them face to face
I track every third adult who comes into the exhibit to make sure my sampling is random. When the person I’m going to track walks in, I refer to a simplified map of the exhibit that has every point of interest marked as a location. When the person stops at one of those points, I start a timer to see how long the person stays there, then when that person moves on to the next point, I record that as well. By the end of even a quick trip through the exhibit, I usually have a sheet full of crisscrossing lines connecting X’s and numbers to mark what felt to the person like an intuitive way to move through the exhibit.
the view from the entrance to the exhibit
the map I use to mark down peoples' paths
After marking down someone’s movement pattern, I ask them directly what they thought about the exhibit. I have several interview questions that get qualitative data to match up to the quantitative tracking data. People are usually very open to being interviewed, and have interesting insights about the design, content, and layout of the exhibit even if they only walked through fairly briefly. Using this data, my next step is to analyze what people did and did not learn so that the artist who made the exhibit can use the information to shape future designs with the audience in mind.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fulweiler Lab: Something New Every Day

I’m Victoria Momyer, and I’m currently interning in Wally Fulweiler’s biogeochemistry lab. I’m a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) major, but I’ve always loved science of all kinds. The posters that decorate my room center around Einstein and the periodic table, my favorite place in the world is the Museum of Natural History in New York, and my favorite book is Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. So you could say I have a borderline-disturbing obsession with science.

This, however, means I feel right at home in a lab like the Fulweiler lab. As an intern, I get a little taste of pretty much all the research that’s being done in the lab. I never feel like I’m doing busy work, but rather really contributing and helping the graduate and PhD students who are working on independent projects.

One of the projects I’m helping with is investigating whether methane leaks around Boston allow for the growth of an insect community in the city’s groundwater wells, which, in recent years, has shown to house bugs rarely ever found in water. Our field work consists of collecting bug samples by sending a camera and a net ten feet down to the water level, and drying them to analyze the contents of the biomass. We also collect water and gas samples, treating different samples with different chemicals in order to detect levels of several different types of components. It’s very interesting to be working in wells right at BU, as it feels like I’m helping solve a problem that’s so close to home.

Taking insect samples from a groundwater well on Comm Ave.

Another project I’m assisting with looks into the nutrient cycling brought about by oysters, and how this has been impacted as oyster populations have declined. I recently went out into the field to Bissel Cove, RI and Allen Harbor, RI in order to sample and test the water. We went out on a beautiful day, and I never imagined taking chlorophyll samples and testing water parameters for hours could be so relaxing and so rewarding. After filtering out the chlorophyll, we freeze the filters in a dark setting (so as not to excite and thus lose chlorophyll) to be extracted and analyzed later. Chlorophyll extraction and analysis has become a core skill for me at the lab.

Chlorophyll extraction and analysis must be done in a dark room so none of the molecules are excited and lost by light. Only green light can be used to see one's work, as chlorophyll does not absorb green light. The machine pictured is a fluorometer, used to measure the amount of fluorescence in a chlorophyll sample to help ascertain the amount of chlorophyll and thus the amount of plankton.

Finally, I’ve been working on taking nutrient, silica, and phytoplankton samples from the Charles River, as well as testing various parameters—pH, temperature, salinity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen—one to two times per week. Eventually, we will compile the data to help figure out why there have been sudden drops in silica and large cyanobacteria blooms in the river for the past two summers. We will also work on analyzing the plankton under a microscope, photographing them, and keying them out to create our own library of Charles River microorganisms.

Bissel Cove, Rhode Island.

With all the projects going on in the lab, it never gets boring—there’s always something to work on, so nothing ever gets monotonous. Each week brings a new activity or two—next week, for example, we will learn how to analyze gas samples with the gas chromatograph, and will be traveling to Pigeon Cove in Rockport, MA to collect algae samples to compare to samples we have from 1890! I can’t wait to see what new skills and discoveries I’ll find with the lab in the weeks to come.

Signing off,


Friday, June 23, 2017

Ecological Forecasting: Reevaluating Ecology in the Face of Climate Change

The Science of Ecological Forecasting
The field of ecology is approaching new horizons through the work and innovation done at the Dietze research group here at Boston University. The development of computational and statistical models, built with analyzing vast amounts of ecological data in mind, has recast the ecological sciences as a predictive, informative endeavor, particularly in the face of climate change and its dynamic effects on ecosystems and biological systems.

The Internship
This summer internship dives right into the process of developing and implementing ecological models through computer programming languages. I joined this internship on the basis of my experience in mathematics, computing, and the biological sciences. I enrolled in BI 303: Evolutionary Ecology as well as MA 226: Differential Equations this past Spring semester, and the interdisciplinary connections between the two classes were obvious and manifold. Dynamical mathematical models are abundantly used in ecological and biological contexts to make predictions and establish theories about ecological systems. Last Fall semester I enrolled in CS 111: Introduction to Computer Science I, where I was introduced to the Python coding language. All of these experiences have inadvertently helped prepare me for the work in the internship. In the development of computational ecological models, the Dietze lab uses the statistical computing language of R, in addition to many others. Seeking to broaden my knowledge of coding languages, and given my classroom experience, this opportunity seemed a natural fit.

As you would expect, a typical day in the lab is dedicated to coding, using the software version control platform of GitHub. Many other software components are used in developing the various ecological analyzers. One such project has been PEcAn.

Picture 1. Associate Professor Mike Dietze of the Earth and Environment Department delivers a seminar on the "emerging imperative" of ecological forecasting, which seeks to synthesize vast amounts of existing ecological data into coherent, analytical, statistical forms that can then be used to make predictions (21 June 2017).

The PEcAn Project

A large project of the Dietze lab has been PEcAn, which stands for the "Predictive Ecosystem Analyzer". http://pecanproject.github.io

It's goals, as established by the lab, includes:

"Climate change science has witnessed an explosion in the amount and types of data that can be brought to bear on the potential responses of the terrestrial carbon cycle and biodiversity to global change. Many of the most pressing questions about global change are not necessarily limited by the need to collect new data as much as by our ability to synthesize existing data. This project specifically seeks to improve this ability. Because no one measurement provides a complete picture, multiple data sources must be integrated in a sensible manner. Process-based models represent an ideal framework for integrating these data streams because they represent multiple processes at different spatial and temporal scales in ways that capture our current understanding of the causal connections across scales and among data types. Three components are required to bridge this gap between the available data and the required level of understanding: 1) a state-of-the-art ecosystem model, 2) a workflow management system to handle the numerous streams of data, and 3) a data assimilation statistical framework in order to synthesize the data with the model."

Screenshot 1. A workflow log of various model runs on the PEcAn web interface.

Screenshot 2. A typical R Studio working environment within the PEcAn development process.

By: Elias Kastritis

Mathematics and Philosophy double major

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Antarctica and Mars

Hi! My name is Noah Conley and I am a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) double majoring in Astrophysics and Geophysics & Planetary Science. Unlike my coworkers in BURECS who work with ancient ash, crystals, or the workings of Earth, I research Mars. My goals for this summer are to expand on the surface feature inventory for Mars, to hone my GIS skills, and to learn more about Martian topography, as that may be helpful considering my majors.

Monday, June 19, 2017

BUARG Intern: Olivia Williams

Examining volcanic crystals in the SEM

My name is Olivia Williams, and I’m interning in the BU Antarctic Research lab this summer. I’m a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. My majors are English and Earth & Environmental Sciences, with a focus in Earth & Climate.
This wasn’t always the path of study I had in mind for myself; when I first came to BU, I intended to study journalism. I thought that the BURECS program would be the perfect opportunity to hone my communication skills while learning more about the climate--an issue about which I have always been passionate. However, in the course of my first two semesters, I realized that I enjoy creative writing and literature much more than journalism. Meanwhile, BURECS connected me with my previously-undiscovered second love: scientific research.