This educational collaboration between Washington University's Tyson Research Center and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Shaw Nature Reserve is designed to engage St. Louis area high school students in scientifically-based exploration of the natural world. Linked programs of field training (SIFT) and field research (TERF) provide teenagers with experiences that realistically reflect research in environmental biology. Participating teens learn a variety of field investigation skills and then have the opportunity to put those new skills to work assisting career scientists with real research projects.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Digging in

During the second week of TERF session 1, the teens were finally able to use the new Living Learning Center as a base of operations.

They were given the chance to take the self-guided walking tour of the building. Small posters on interior and exterior structures call attention to features like the invasive Eastern Red Cedar siding that was harvested to help restore Missouri glade habitat.

The teens didn't spend much time in the building, though. More often than not, they could be found in the field.

Hannah worked with first-year grad student Kristin Powell. Her research looks at the impact of invasive bush honeysuckle on the native understory plant community.

Miranda worked with Dr. Laura Burkle, investigating the interactions between invasive plant species and insect pollinators.

Yanwen worked with Dr. Tiffany Knight and Dr. Mickey Schutzenhofer on a long-term study examining the importance of factors like order of introduction and management practices on the success of plants that invade prairies.

Josef's mentor was Dr. Tim Dickson, whose primary study system for the summer was glades. However, the prairie team often took him out to their plots when collecting data on plants that can be tricky to identify.

Pete (sporting his beloved cowboy hat) worked with the aquatic team on a variety of projects studying biodiversity and community structure in ponds.

Tess worked with the aquatic team as well. Above, she samples a pond at Shaw Nature Reserve - Tyson's partner for the SIFT and TERF programs.

Katherine worked with Dr. Brian Allan, researching infectious diseases carried by ticks and their hosts. Here, she records data next to one of the traps used for surveying small mammals like mice.

Asad also worked with Dr. Brian Allan on the tick team. Here, he collects an empty trap meant for slightly larger animals like squirrels.

The teens returned from project set-up or data collection tuckered out and often with a few ticks. Yet, it seemed they always managed to laugh off the challenges and share their favorite anecdotes from the day while completing their daily reflection or during their ride in the carpool.

Introductions, rain or shine

On the first of June, Tyson welcomed its first round of environmental research fellows (TERFers, as they are affectionately called). They embarked on their four-week adventure with a tour of Tyson in the form of a field challenge that allowed them to discover a bit of the land's present and historical use.

The tour included a few Tyson gems, like this bird feeding station in front of the headquarters building. Named for Joyce Duncan, a beloved office manager, this group of feeders welcomes hummingbirds, cardinals, nuthatches, woodpeckers, finches and many others.

On the first two afternoons, the teens jumped right in with their mentors on projects studying glades, prairies, ticks and their hosts, aquatic communities, wildflowers and pollinators. Unfortunately, some of the next few days were not as conducive to fieldwork.

Rain meant TERFers were stuck at headquarters, gazing longingly at the sogginess outside.

As a consolation prize, they enjoyed Dr. Tiffany Knight's introduction to population ecology, that taught them to use basic demographic data to project the future of species growth or decline. Other rainy day activities included a discussion of the nature of science with Dr. Tim Dickson, following the path from inquiry, data collection, analysis, peer review and dissemination to our current body of knowledge. Tips for keeping a lab notebook were reviewed and when the clouds began to separate, TERFers toured the new organic garden and joined the fight against weeds.

As the weather began to cooperate, allowing for more time in the field, the teens began to find their place on their research teams and in the greater Tyson community.

Monday, June 29, 2009

On some new TERF

*cracks knuckles*

There's a large gap in time to bridge here, but I believe I'm up to the challenge in the next week.

My name is Katie and I'm the summer intern on the informal science education programs taking place at Washington University's Tyson Research Center. I graduated from WashU in May after completing majors in Environmental Studies and Philosophy, as well as a research summer of my own at Tyson last year. Breathing for the first time after the whirlwind that was informal science ed at Tyson in June, I'm here to synthesize and share some of the most noteworthy parts of the last four weeks.