Sunday, July 11, 2010

Liz at the Lab

Well into the lab, finally after a weekend of having no contact with the outside world.  (ie: no internet, phone, and precious few souls on campus to annoy with questions like where are laundry rooms?)

Perhaps I just lucked out, or maybe it is just a general Australian demeanor, but everyone that I am working with is so fantastic!  In stark contrast with other labs I have been in, here folks are coming at me with questions about how I want to use their labs and expertise to enhance my teaching curriculum.  I am not just another pair of hands to help with the immense amount of sample analysis, but rather a key player in relating what is going on in science to future researchers!  Whew – don’t I sound important? 

Ok, so into the actual lab work:

The lab I am in is called the National Queensland Algal Identification/Culturing Facility or NQAIF.  That gets written on everything.  Samples, machines, papers, people….
Here at Kirsten Heimann’s lab (a German scientist who seven years ago came to Townsville to do research and hasn’t left yet) there are many graduate students working on various projects. I am super lucky to be paired with Saskia de Jong, a Canadian who transferred to JCU in her second year of college and again is still here.  Hmm, what could it be about this gorgeous tropical paradise that keeps ‘em here? Saskia has started by going over the basic lab skills with me – as I explained to her that last bio lab I have been in was as an undergraduate. I have been catching on very quickly and all of my turbidity data is on par, pippeting skills up to snuff, and I can autoclave with the best of them.  J  My old genetics professor would have been so proud.

Once I have re-learned all the basic lab skills, I will be applying them to my own micro-algae samples that will be collected this weekend on a dive up in Port Douglas. (5 hours north of Townsville) The basic projects with these little buggers is as follows:

Salinity Experiments – getting salt data on the marine environments of all our specimens

Nutrient Composition – determining what amount of nitrates, nitrites and phosphates are being absorbed

Lipid Staining and Quantification – this is really cool and involved glowing or phosphorescent dinoflagellates! (Which is just a type of micro-algae with two flagella to help them get around.)

Cell Counts and Turbidity Analysis – yup, you guessed it, counting cells.   BORING.

Protein Profiling – determining protein content

Some of this work is really amazing and some of it us just well, repetitive and necessary. But I think the results will be well worth it and I can’t wait to start thinking of how to use this in the class room! Well, until next time…Cheers mates!   

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