Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Put down your scissors

I remember when I was younger I really wanted to open a box that contained the ultimate in summer fun: a slip and slide. It was taped shut so being the logical young kid that I was I went and found a pair of scissors. I opened the scissors up, grabbed them around the middle, and started cutting open the box with one of the blades. Obviously this story doesn’t end very well for my hand. However, I did get the box open. It was just much more painful than it needed to be. If I had consulted with other people, perhaps ones who had opened a box before or who has access to a box cutter (you know the parental types), I might have found a better solution to my problem. Perhaps one that also allowed me to use the slip and slide on the same day. The same idea works in research. As a biologist I can see a lot of solution to numerous problems, but most of them would not work in reality. It might be because they cost too much or people are not motivated to make the necessary changes. The solution might exist but it is too painful to be viable. That is why we need collaboration across disciplines. It allows us to streamline our research more efficiently and effectively towards solutions that could work.

Working and conducting research with the LAKES REU team has helped me look at biological research as a jumping off point rather than an end point. We are constantly talking about how our research might help inform other areas and how other fields might be able to assess the viability of our own research as a solution to the cyanobacteria problem. It is really exciting to ask whether or not our experiment will be economically viable or be something that people would be willing to try in the future. It is more exciting to be a part of a team that has the capacity to answer those questions.

Recently I have had the opportunity to work with the Geography team on their project. They are looking at how different qualities of buffers impact stream health and how citizen scientists might be able to contribute imaging data of these buffers along with stream monitoring data. Let me tell you they have been doing a LOT of work this summer from analyzing the best places to collect data to the leg work of getting permission to access land around the streams. They are seriously a hard working team who is doing really great work. Without them we would not have had many of the sites for our own data collection. What the Geography team, and many of the other LAKES teams, is doing is trying to find a hands on way to get people involved in the cyanobacteria problem. They are trying to find a way to help people make a connection between water quality and riparian buffers, between themselves and the lake. Trying to find ways to get people involved in solving this issue is also what Biology team is looking at. Can we reuse the sediment in the streams as fertilizer? It is a question we are hoping to answer and if it works it could be a real way to get people involved. Will it be economically viable? Will farmers be willing to make a change and use stream sediment in place of fertilizer? We don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but we are putting our scissor down, pondering our taped up box, and getting the hose ready. 

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