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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

In her own words - TERFer Alicia McCabe

SIFT and TERF became so much more to me than just a summer job or a camp for me. Before SIFT and TERF, I wasn’t as interested in science as I am now; SIFT and TERF completely opened my eyes to science and sparked the passion I now have today.

SIFT and TERF, I can honestly say, were some of the greatest programs I have ever done, and they offered me some of the best experiences possible. SIFT and TERF went beyond most programs as they allowed me to do the actual hands-on work and gain personal experience.

The knowledge and experience I’ve gained through these programs even surprises people sometimes – it’s valuable. It’s more than just learning about what field biology or ecology is, it’s actually going out and doing what people who have made this their career do, and doing it alongside them to learn even more. And, even if I don’t go into field biology or ecology specifically, these programs have given me many opportunities and inspired me to only pursue science even more.

I’ve been challenged, pushed, inspired, taught, and have had so much fun in the process; it’s helped me find where my interests are. It’s helped me come to the realization that science is my passion and the future career field I hope to pursue.

Besides just the science aspect of these programs, they’ve also also helped me find and form long lasting friendships as I’ve become even best friends with some of the people I met over a year ago, specifically in SIFT. And for these reasons, I TRULY hope these programs continue so that others can also experience and find a passion within science as I have.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Setting up new aquatic community research with Dr. Simon Hart

We have had many TERFers help with aquatic community research projects over the past few years, but this year we had the opportunity to get both SIFTers and TERFers up to their shoulders in new experimental tanks at Tyson!

Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Simon Hart is studying aquatic-plant community assembly in habitats of different sizes. To do this, he is artificially colonizing 112 ponds of varying sizes with 20 or so species of plants collected from ponds at Tyson and Shaw. During the first week of July, Simon had SIFTer and TERFer assistance getting the plants put into the experimental ponds. Helping with this project entailed the following tasks: (1) the aquatic plants were roughly rinsed to remove fish eggs, (2) the plants were separated and weighed, with the weight determining the amount required in ponds of different sizes, and (3) the plants were carefully and systematically added to the ponds (just like planting terrestrial plants, but underwater).

Friday, July 22, 2011

SIFTers are good at sifting prairie plants

It turns out that SIFTers (and TERFers, for that matter) are very good at sifting and sorting through plant biomass samples from the 102 experimental prairie plots at Tyson Research Center. Dr. Tiffany Knight and her prairie research team spent several days guiding SIFTers through plant identification as they processed all of the samples and got them ready for the drying oven.

The 2011 Prairie Team: (l tor) TERFer Alex Samuels, McKendree undergrad Lauren Eveland, Dr. Tiffany Knight, TERFer Brendan Hellebusch, McKendree undergrad Brandyn Snider, TERFer Taylor Rohan, TERFer Lena Bohman (not pictured McKendree undergrad Kelli Lewis)

SIFTers help with NutNet project at Tyson

Tyson Research Center participates in the Nutrient Network (NutNet), a global research cooperative to investigate alteration of global nutrient budgets and changes in the abundance and identify of consumers. The NutNet plots at Tyson are sampled in July and this year SIFTers helped identify and sort the plant samples.

SIFTers Adil Hassan (l) and Kelly Powderly (center) work with TERFer Alex Samuels (r) to sort plants into six categories.

Dr. Tiffany Knight (l) points out the differences in vegetation between the NutNet plots located in New Pond Field.

TERFers help maintain a research plot

While each TERFer is embedded on a particular research team at Tyson and spends the majority of her/his working hours with that team, there are often opportunities to help on other projects. Wash U grad student Kate Waselkov has enlisted the TERFers to help her with maintenance on her research plot at Tyson while she travels to her other research sites. She is investigating the effects of Amaranthus tuberculatus (water hemp) a weedy invasive, on Midwestern soybean fields.

Garima Thakkar (l) and Dan Peipert (r) check on individual water hemp plants that have been planted between the rows of soybeans.

Dan holds the fence open for Dee Luo. Shorter TERFers definitely have an advantage entering and leaving the plot!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Seed Collecting and Fish Survey

On July 13th and 14th two separate groups of SIFTers returned to SNR to take part in some seed collecting and a fish survey. Over two days of fishing at Wolf Run, a good mix of large mouth bass and sunfish (almost entirely bluegill) were captured. A total of about 50 fish were caught, identified, measured, and then released. To the best of my knowledge, everyone caught at least one fish. The next time you see Aileen, be sure to congratulate her on a 20.5" large mouth bass. She said it was the largest bass she's ever caught; however, no one was around to see her reel it in, so it's OK to question the validity of her story!

By most accounts, seed collecting was a hot job. It's hard work and there is no escaping the heat when you're outside in mid-July. The work centered around the wetlands, but some time was also spent near the new Glassberg Pavilions. Some of the time was also devoted to invasive plant removal. Both seed collecting and the removal of invasive plant species are key components in maintaining the grounds of SNR, so we truly appreciate the efforts of these SIFTers. Thanks for all your hard work!

A Summary of the June 2011 SIFT Sessions

Another June of SIFT sessions at SNR has come and gone. It was a great year, and now that it's mid-July, a summary of the sessions is probably a bit overdue. Like most previous years, this year's SIFT program was divided into three sessions, each lasting one week. Session one had 18 students, while sessions two and three both had 14 SIFTers, for a total of 46 participants.

For those who haven't experienced SIFT, a run-down of the week's activities follows. On day 1 the focus was getting SIFTers acquainted with each other, SNR staff, and the nature reserve in general. After a series of "getting to know you" activities and a talk about outdoor safety, the SIFTers learned a bit about navigating with a map, compass, and GPS unit. After lunch, the students were split into groups of 4-6 and asked to find their way from the Dana Brown Overnight Center to a point unknown to them (the Maritz Trail House). They were given a series of instructions to follow (i.e. take a compass bearing of 220 degrees and walk 60 paces) that required them to use the navigational skills and tools that they had just learned about. Fortunately, the lessons seemed to have sunk-in and no groups were lost for too long.

Day 2 focused on observation. After a brief lesson on field sketching, students then began an isopod inquiry. Each group was given a few isopods to observe. They were asked to note details about the isopods' physical characteristics and behaviors. Next, students generated a list of questions about isopods. The overall purpose of this lesson was to get SIFTers into an observational frame of mind and to get them thinking about how to turn observations into scientifically investigable questions. Day 2 also included a lesson on dichotomous keys. After a brief lesson on how to use and create these keys, the SIFTers were split into groups to create their own dichotomous key for a series of tree leaves. After lunch, the program switched gears and students were introduced to abiotic water testing. This was used to prepare students for day three.

The third day of each SIFT session was acquatics day. The morning was spent at Wolf Run Lake doing abiotic testing and a biotic sampling of the lake's macroinvertebrates. SNR staff facilitated the morning's activities, but the afternoon was essentially conducted by the SIFTers themselves. After lunch, the groups moved to Brush Creek where the SIFTers were on their own to decide how to conduct the same biotic and abiotic sampling that they had performed at Wolf Run. All three sessions of SIFTers handled this situation with ease. The highlight from this year's acquatics day occurred in session 2 when a good sized snapping turlte was found in Brush Creek! The last part of this day was spent indoors debriefing the day's activities. In small groups, the SIFTers worked to draw conclusions about the overall condition of Wolf Run and Brush Creek based on the data recorded through the course of the day.

The fourth day of SIFT centered on plant life in a variety of ecosystems. In small groups, the SIFTers conducted random sampling of the plants in a prairie, a glade, and a woodland. Again, there was a debriefing session where the SIFTers worked in 3 separate groups to assess the data from the ecosystem assigned to their group.

Day 4 also included an overnight stay. The most informative aspect of the overnight occurred when the SIFTers participated in short question/answer sessions with actual field scientists, researchers, and/or grauduate students (sometimes TERFers too). These sessions were a great opportunity for the SIFTers to ask questions and learn about college, potential careers, the joys of field biology, etc.

The final day of SIFT centered around ants, and was led by Dr. James Trager. SIFTers were given bags of bologna and pecan sandies (cookies) to use as ant bait. Pairs of SIFTers spread out around the overnight center, placed their bait, and then waited for the ants. As the ants arrived, students were asked to identify each new species (using an incredibly user-friendly key created by ant expert Dr. Trager). The students were also asked to observe the ants and their behaviors. One of the highlights from this year's ant baiting was when a couple of carpenter bees got too close to bologna that was covered in ants. Even though the bees weren't trying to take any of the bologna, the act of getting close to the ants' food source resulted in their being swarmed and killed by the much smaller ants. It was somewhat grisly to watch, but left this viewer with a much greater appreciation for the utter determination of some ants to defend important resources.

The final project undertaken by SIFTers could be seen as the culmination of the week's study. The students were split into 3 or 4 groups and asked to design a research project. Each design had to include a research question, a hypothesis, a list of the materials needed to conduct the project, the time-frame required to complete their research, and an overview of the method(s) that would be used to analyze the data. Upon completing their research design, each group presented their project to the rest of the group. Next, SNR staff and the other groups of SIFTers critiqued the project, with the goal of bringing the group to a better idea of what is realistically investigable and what a well-designed research project entails.

Overall, it was a great month with a great group of students. Sorry SIFTers if this entry is a bit dry. The goal was to inform other folks about SIFT. Upcoming blog entries will focus more on your experiences in the various projects.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July TERFers

(l to r) Zach, Dan, Milena, Dee, Alicia, Nina, Marie

There were 7 new TERFers (above) working at Tyson Research Center during July 2011.

Glade Team with Holly Bernardo and Steve Kroiss
Milena Kanak, homeschooled (TERF C3)

Forest Dynamics Plot with Dr. Jonathan Myers and Brett Decker
Marie Manzo, Metro HS (TERF C3)
Zach Rhodes, Francis Howell HS (TERF C3)
also continuing to work during July - Sarah Harrington, Metro HS (TERF C3)
and Aidan Kelly, Saint Louis University HS (TERF C3)

Fire Ecology Team with Dr. Rae Crandall
Dee Luo, Clayton HS (TERF C3)
Dan Peipert, Clayton HS (TERF C3)

Aquatics Team with Beth Biro, Lauren Woods, and Amber Burgett
Nina Fischer, John Burroughs HS (TERF C3)
Alicia McCabe, Incarnate Word Academy (TERF C3)
also continuing to work during July - Chloe Pinkner, Webster Groves HS (TERF C2)

Friday, July 8, 2011

June TERFers

(l to r) Brendan, Bryan, Aidan, Lena, Garima, Mary, and Sarah

There were 7 new TERFers (above) and 3 returning TERFers working at Tyson Research Center during June 2011, plus another returning TERFer working as support to the SIFT program training sessions over at Shaw Nature Reserve.

Prairie Team with Dr. Tiffany Knight
Taylor Rohan, Fort Zumwalt North HS (TERF C2)
Alex Samuels, Parkway South HS (TERF C2)
Lena Bohman, Thomas Jefferson School (TERF C3)
Brendan Hellebusch, Parkway North HS (TERF C3)

Glade Team with Holly Bernardo and Steve Kroiss
Mary Blair, Incarnate Word Academy (TERF C3)

Forest Dynamics Plot with Dr. Jonathan Myers and Brett Decker
Sarah Harrington, Metro HS (TERF C3)
Aidan Kelly, Saint Louis University HS (TERF C3)

Fire Ecology Team with Dr. Rae Crandall
Garima Thakkar, Parkway Central HS (TERF C3)
Bryan Rosinski, Eureka HS (TERF C3)

Aquatics Team with Beth Biro, Lauren Woods, and Amber Burgett
Chloe Pinkner, Webster Groves HS (TERF C2)

SIFT program with Lydia Toth
Tess Rogers, Maplewood-Richmond Heights HS (TERF C1)

TERF Winter Symposium

The winter symposium for TERF Cohort 2 was held on Saturday, January 22, 2011 in the Living Learning Center at Tyson Research Center. Family, friends, biology teachers, field mentors, former TERFers, and current SIFTers enjoyed poster and PowerPoint presentations on a variety of research projects.