KBS undergraduate summer researcher Kathryn Bloodworth is majoring in biology and environmental science at Eastern University, near Philadelphia. She wrote about her Research Experience for Undergraduates experience working with Will West, a post-doc in Sarah Evan’s lab. Kathryn was funded by an ESA SEEDS fellowship and an NSF REU site award to the Kellogg Biological Station.
My name is Kathryn Bloodworth and I am a rising senior at Eastern University, located outside of Philadelphia. There I study biology and environmental science and for the last eleven weeks I have had the privilege of working at the Kellogg Biological Station in Dr. Sarah Evan’s lab alongside Dr. William West as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program. Although I am an REU, I am also a SEEDS Partnership for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) Fellow. SEEDS, a program run through the Ecological Society of America, has given me the incredible opportunity to work at the Kellogg Biological Station this summer and travel to the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting in the summer of 2017.
When I arrived in Hickory Corners I was absolutely astonished. Having never been to Michigan I was amazed by its great beauty. Although I was nervous coming into this summer experience, I was also incredibly excited. Since I never had the chance to study abroad or travel during my time as an undergraduate, I took this summer as an opportunity to explore the country and enjoy new experiences. When I first began working here I was eager to begin a research project that was far above anything I have learned or experienced before. Although this project required a lot of preliminary work and many long days of learning concepts and understanding ideas, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
The project that I have worked on this summer involved understanding more about how the carbon and nitrogen cycles interact in the microbial community of marginal land switchgrass soils, part of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center research. There were two main research questions for this project. (1) How does organic carbon quantity and quality affect denitrification rates in switchgrass (Panicum virginiatum) soil grown on marginal lands? (2) How does applying nitrate to organic carbon compounds of varying bioaccessability affect denitrification rates and the ratio of N2O (nitrous oxide) to N2 (nitrogen gas) emissions? Using a denitrification enzyme assay technique, soil from Lux Arbor, the marginal land site, was placed into serum bottles and varying concentrations of Mannitol and Butyrate were added as well as a high and low concentration of nitrate. Gas chromatography was used in order to determine the relative magnitudes of N2O and N2 emissions. We found that denitrification as a whole resulted in mainly N2O production, not N2 production, likely due to the marginal land soils. Additionally, it was found that nitrate addition increased denitrification rates, specifically N2O production. Finally, butyrate appeared to reduce N2O production, while Mannitol appeared to increase denitrification rates and N2O production.
Although my summer experience is only the beginning of a much larger project, I am excited to have contributed the work that I did and to be able to follow through with the project in the following months. During this project I learned a lot about the research process and how difficult it can be to get the methodologies correct. I also learned how rewarding it is to receive results and to be able to interpret the data. This summer has given me the opportunity to learn a variety of lab techniques and what it means to be a researcher in a lab with many colleagues.
Coming into my time at the Kellogg Biological Station, I expected a summer that would help me to conclude what I would do in my graduate degree and I was hoping to walk away with decisions for my future made. Instead, I found myself desiring more experience before deciding on graduate schools. I leave this summer knowing I will pursue my Ph.D., but only after I take time off to truly consider what the best program is for me.
Through a summer of immense learning and incredible new experiences, I also made friends that I will have for a lifetime. We have spent countless hours together, whether it be doing work, helping each other with projects, making dinners, or camping. I am thankful to have met people throughout the summer who share my passions and desires for our world.
The summer Research Experience for Undergraduate Program at the Kellogg Biological Station has been overwhelmingly amazing. The staff is unbelievable and they consistently go out of their way to help you with what they can. Being a SPUR Fellow and REU is something that I would suggest for anyone. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the research process and our environment. These past eleven weeks have been some of the best of my life, and it has been an absolutely wonderful summer, to say the least.