China Research

Waiting for Godot (a.k.a Photoquadrat)

Heading into the third week of waiting for the quadrat to be constructed, I’ve learned some important differences between the scientific process in America and China. If I were doing this project in the US, I would have gone to the hardware store 3 weeks ago, bought some PVC pipe and glue, and constructed a perfectly good quadrat within 2 days. The process here takes much longer, from what I gather, because scientists are not as hands on. They have a workshop at the university that deals with constructing the necessary equipment, whereas researchers are mostly concerned with whats going on in the lab. This is something I wish I knew before, because I could have proposed building the quadrat myself. This is the type of hands on science I am used to from my experiences at Eckerd, where nearly all the equipment we use is home made, using plenty of duck tape and ingenuity. ¬†But, I have definitely learned an interesting lesson about the differences in the scientific process, and have gained valuable insight into the international research experience.

As of today, the quadrat should be finished, and I was told we would be going into the field tomorrow, if the weather is good enough. If we get all the data I need tomorrow, that leaves me with 10 days to approximate coral cover, identify each genus of coral, note rock formations and dominant coral-associated macroinvertebrates, and identify species of algae in 75 photos, as well as quantifying sediment samples, looking at water quality data, and calculating the degree of wave exposure¬†from all 5 sites. Basically theres no way I’m going to finish this before I leave. I talked to my labmates about it, and they said they would finish whatever I can’t, but I’m still very unclear on how that would work, and am nervous about the outcome of my project.

Meanwhile, so as to keep busy in the lab, one of Dr. Qiu’s grad students has been teaching me how to identify polychaetes down to the species level. Before I started this, I thought worms looked pretty similar to the naked eye. Well, turns out they look just as similar under a very powerful microscope, making identification a long and frustrating process. I.Ding to family level is fairly easy, as there are some distinct characters that differentiate the worms. Species level is a whole different story. But, some of the techniques used are very interesting. For example, some polychaetes can be identified based on their chaeta, which are small hair-like appendages that aid in movement, and are attached to the podia, or feet, of the worm. These can be extracted from the worm, and placed under a special microscope that has an attachment for creating a faint outline of whatever is under the microscope on a white piece of paper. I can then trace the outline of the chaeta, and try to identify the worm by comparing the shape to shapes of chaeta in papers and textbooks. I also learned how to use Adobe Illustrator to make textbook- quality illustrations of the worms, which I’m sure is a very valuable skill.

So thats a summary of my research this past week. Wish me luck finishing my project!