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,


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