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Week 6 – A Field Trip and Various Other Sciencey Things

This week got off to a fun start when I joined the other IEH interns on a field trip to the gorge. It was a beautiful sunny day which was perfect weather for viewing waterfalls. One of my favorite parts turned out to be the tour of Bonneville Dam. My previous knowledge of hydroelectric power was basically what I remembered from grade school, which was barely anything, so I learned a lot from the tour. I learned about the history of the dam, how fish ladders work, how the turbines work, and perhaps most importantly, that I really do not want to work as a fish counter for a dam. Bonneville dam has a fish counter who sits at a computer and counts all the fish that pass by. They categorize them by species, whether they are juveniles or adults, and if they are wild or come from a hatchery. I believe that if it is possible to die from boredom, it would be doing that job. Each shift is 8 hours. My head would explode after only an hour of that.

The rest of the week I worked on a bunch of different tasks. I did more runs on the flow cytometer and helped Rachel with her esterase experiment. If all goes well we should soon be able to determine if esterase activity does affect the absorbtion of SNARF, causing SNARF to not be a good dye to use to determine intracellular pH. Despite the fact that SNARF may not be an accurate dye, I made a calibration curve for T. weissflogii using the flow cytometer, and then tested the viability of using the flow cytometer to measure SNARF fluorescence with other species of phytoplankton. None of the other ones I tested, which were all smaller species, worked as well as T. weiss. The SNARF fluorescence didn’t shift over far enough from the blank fluorescence to be able to separate the two clearly when analyzing the data. It looks like I will be primarily using the spectrofluorometer to measure the intracellular pH of the phytoplankton once Rachel and I start running experiments on the pHstat.

We checked the pHstat on Tuesday and had good news—it was still working great! We began acclimating the culture to the pHstat treatment so that by next week we might be able to start running experiments. Rachel taught me how to do the routine maintance tasks that I’ll need to perform when we run experiments, and I got to practice them on my own so that I’ll be comfortable doing everything when she is gone. The experiments we will run can last up to a week and require periodic checks so I will be taking the day shift while Rachel willingly sacrifices herself for the night shift. I am excited to start running the experiments and see what data we collect.