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, July 30, 2013

Cups - TERF Style

Well, the TERF summer 2013 internships have officially come to a close. To commemorate this bittersweet moment and celebrate the awesomeness of the past couple of months, Turtle Team TERFer Mihika rewrote the song Cups for the occasion. Assisting is fellow TERFer Hannah from the Forest Team.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tyson Olympics: Water Fun

To wrap up the Tyson Olympics, the TERFers and undergrads had the water fight to end all water fights!

TERFer Hannah douses TERFer Clayton with a bucket of water.

Clockwise from the left, undergrad Jackie, TERFer George, undergrad Amy, and TERFer Hannah crowd around the fire hose.

In the foreground, TERFer Mihika (center) shoots at undergrad Olivia, while TERFer George prepares to dump a bucket of water over her.

TERFer George and undergrad Jackie take advantage of a collision between TERFer Mihika and undergrad Anna and soak them.

TERFer Andrew dumps a bucket of water on an unsuspecting TERFer George.

Undergrad Anna (left) and TERFer Courtney guffaw together.

The undergrads and TERFers set up a slip-n-slide with sheet plastic from maintenance guru Pete.

Undergrad Micaela enjoys her first slip-n-slide experience.

TERFer Adam shows off his new 'do.

L-R: Technician Taylor, undergrad Cassandra, and TERF intern Emily enjoy watching water fun.

The water fight squad poses after the battle.

Tyson Olympics: Aquatic Triad

The last event of the morning was hosted by the Aquatics Team. They required each team to run a three-legged race in waders, hop around in trash can chimneys, and do a cartwheel before running back to the start.

In the foreground, undergrad Eleanor and TERFer George run a three legged race in waders. It's-a Mario!

Bee Team undergrad Tess and post-doc Alex run back to the finish line.

Invasive Plants Team TERFers Hannah (left) and Courtney run the last stretch of the relay.

Tyson Olympics: Turtle in a Haystack

For their event, the Turtle Team modeled the challenges of radio tracking by blindfolding one member from each team while another member led them to a bowl of beans with the words "hot" and "cold." After arriving at the bowl, the teams had to find a single grain of rice hidden in the beans and run back to the starting line.

Blindfolded team members follow the voices of their teammates to the bowls of beans.

Invasive Plants Team TERFers Thomas and Courtney, having found the grain of rice, run back to start.

Tyson Olympics: Soil Spin

The Forest Team modeled their event on the soil core samples they have been taking in the Tyson Forest Dynamics Plot. Each team was required to spin around a soil probe and then balance a plate of soil on their heads while walking to a graduated cylinder. The team with the most soil in the cylinder by the end of the relay wins!

L-R: TERFer Thomas (Invasive Plants) carries a plate of soil while undergrads Shannon (Bee Team) and Alissa (Aquatics Team) spin around soil probes.

Undergrad Kelly (Aquatics Team) pours soil into a graduated cylinder.

Undergrad Eleanor (Fire Ecology) carries a half-full plate of soil.

L-R: TERFer Ben, uberTERFer Tom, and technician and former super-uberTERFer Taylor carry soil.

Tyson Olympics: That's Some Hot...Poop

The Glade Team's event was modeled on their deer scat surveys. Each team received a series of flags and had to find and mark a pile of Milk Duds in a field. Extra points were awarded for finding pencils and Sharpies. And extra candy was duly disposed of by nearby team members.

Glade technician Holly explains the game and passes out flags.

The teams search the field for piles of candy poop. TERFer Hannah found a pencil!

Glade technician Chris (left) chats with Bee Team undergrad and former uberTERFer Brendan. It's kind of adorable to see a bee and a flower in casual conversation. 

Tyson Olympics: Snail Races

Undergraduate Anna and post-doc Claudia have been working with snails all summer, so when it came time to create an event, they knew they had just the thing. The morning of the Olympics, the two of them collected a boxful of snails for the teams to choose from, as well as a host of tasty leaves to bribe the snails with during the race. For having slow racers, the game sure was exciting (except for the poor Glade Team, who may have chosen a dead snail)!

Undergrad and former TERFer Tess (left) and undergrad Amy choose a snail and some tempting greens to encourage it.

The contestants line up their racers. This is also about how the race looked at the end.

Tyson Olympics: Be the Bee

The Bee Team developed an event titled "Be the Bee," a game where three participants from each research team would collect and move "pollen" in the form of bouncy balls. The first team member ran from one end of a field to a marked plot where they would collect the pollen, the second member would have to dance with a pollen-filled tissue box tied to them until all the pollen had been shaken off, and the third member tossed the pollen balls into a "honeycomb"--a set of connected cups.

Alex, post-doc and lead for the Bee Team, explains the game to the rest of the community.

Undergrad Alyssa (left, Glade Team) and TERFer Ben (Turtle Team) run to collect pollen balls.

Undergrad Jenny (left, former Turtle Team member) and TERFer Leyna dance while TERFer Mihika and undergrad/former-TERFer Julia collect pollen balls shaken to the ground.

Undergrad Alissa dances while Beth (technician) collects pollen balls and teammates Kevin and Kelly (undergrad) cheer. In the foreground, undergrad Micaela collects pollen balls for the Forest Team.

Tyson Olympics: Plant Invaders

The Invasive Plants Team incorporated their study of herbivory into their Olympic event. Each team received a data sheet and map that they would have to follow through a series of plots. At the final plot, teams were required to find a thread tied around a sample plant within a plot, the color of which corresponded to a percent herbivory. One member of the team then inflicted herbivory on (i.e. ate) a leaf-shaped cookie, and the Invasive Plants Team used software to determine how close each team came to their percent herbivory. That has to be the most delicious use of software I've ever heard of.

Tyson teams search a plot for colored threads, which the Invasive Plants Team uses to mark their plants. In the background, Glade Team technician Chris walks majestically by in flower garb.

The Forest Team prepares to inflict herbivory on their leaf cookie.

Tyson Olympics: Opening Ceremony

On Thursday, July 25, the Tyson community celebrated the end of the field season with the Tyson Olympic Games. Each research team at Tyson created a fun event to showcase their project. We started with the opening ceremony...

Clockwise from center-top: Invasive Plants Team (in light green), Bee Team (in yellow), Fire Ecology Team (in black), Aquatics Team (in tie-dye), Glade Team (in costume), Forest Team (in teal), Turtle Tracking Team (in green).

Everyone gets their game faces on. Time for the events!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In his own words: TERFer Ben Banet

As a TERFer, I was on the Turtle Team. I worked with Mihika (another TERFer) and Caroline and Olivia, two Washington University undergrads. Our team was part of the larger St. Louis Box Turtle Project. Despite box turtles being a common sight in much of the country, very little is really known about their habits and habitat needs. We know that humans have encroached on box turtle habitat and are having an effect on them, but the magnitude of that effect is not known. 

The St. Louis Box Turtle Project plans to change that by studying the turtles’ movement ecology and health. To do this, 19 turtles have radio tags attached to their shells and are tracked twice a week. Eight of these turtles live in 2,000 acres of hilly, wooded forest at Tyson Research Center. The other eleven live in the more urban environment of Forest Park. By comparing the habits of urban turtles to those in a more natural environment, we hope to learn about how much humans have affected the native turtles and learn better conservation tactics for their preservation and management. 

L-R: Mihika, Ben, and Caroline weigh Sparky the turtle at Tyson.

One of my favorite parts about TERF was being embedded in a research team for a whole month. SIFT was neat, but I just got to sample projects for a day or two. TERF was different, being able to really delve into a project and learn all about it. 

At first glance, it seemed easy enough - the turtles had radio tags, you'd walk up and find them and that's that. I soon learned tracking was a lot more complicated and difficult than I thought. On our first day of tracking, we headed out to find Megan, one of the tagged turtles at Tyson. After hiking three miles up and over Tyson's trails, we hadn't heard a single beep from Megan's tag, but after hiking up one more ridge, we heard a faint beep. I got excited by this and thought this would be easy enough now that we're close. Instead, the challenge was only half over. I soon learned the radio beeps from the tags can bounce on the steep hills and valleys. The advice, "Just walk in the direction of the loudest beep," was a lot harder in real life. After an hour of stumbling around in the woods off the trail, we finally found Megan. Collecting the basic data on weight, habitat, behavior, weather, health, and GPS location went quickly. We weighed her and gave her a quick health check, then set her down and hiked back to the Tyson headquarters for lunch. After hiking four miles and taking four hours to find just one turtle, I was frustrated and disappointed by turtle tracking. I wondered if every turtle would take four hours to find. 

Benton the turtle with his tracking tag.
Four weeks later, picking up the antennae and heading out to the forest to track isn't a big deal. The data sheets and measurements are no longer confusing. It wasn't easy to learn everything in a few weeks, but the undergrads were very supportive and wanted to help us, letting us learn by experience. Tracking turtles day after day soon became easier and easier. On Monday, July 22nd, we found all eight Tyson turtles in one day by 2:00 pm. That was a record fast time for the team. All the beeps had sounded the same that first day in the field, but now I was able to listen to the subtle differences and walk towards the turtle. Filling out the data sheets when we found a turtle had become quick and efficient. All of those were skills I didn't have just four weeks ago.

As a SIFTer, I would've just scratched the surface of the project and wouldn't have learned the whole scale. Helping out for a month, I learned about all sides of the project and how it was more than just tracking the turtles. Beyond our twice weekly tracking in Tyson, I learned about the health monitoring carried out by the Institute for Conservation Medicine (ICM) at the Saint Louis Zoo and met the four people on the ICM team. We got to track in Forest Park with the ICM team and collect swabs and samples for them to analyze back in their lab. We also got to explain our project to teachers and educators at the Forest Park Voyage of Learning Workshop. By the end of TERF, I felt like I had really experienced the entire project and learned a wide variety of skills related to turtle tracking. That deep, immersive experience in real research was just what I wanted to get out of TERF and I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Team Turtle Goes to the Zoo

Today I followed Team Turtle on another adventure to Forest Park, where they met up with members of the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine to track turtles. Check out what we did!

Ben (TERFer) tracks Georgette the turtle.

Ben and Audrey (ICM) inspect Georgette and take measurements.

Mihika (left, TERFer) and Olivia (WU undergrad) take a break.

Mihika picks up John the turtle so we can take measurements.

Mihika and Ben are inspired by the thrill of discovery.

Mihika and Ben and I stop for donuts on the way back to Tyson.

TERF Intern

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

SIFTers in the Prarie

Alex Porter out in the field.
Now that the SIFTers have been trained up and are ready to assist with some field research, our ecologists at Tyson are eager to bring them on board. Today we had two SIFTers, Alex Porter and Peter Volmert, come out to help two of our technicians on the prairie team, Taylor Rohan and Alex Samuels. 

Here is what Alex Porter had to say about her experience:

I helped and with a prairie research team for two days. We were doing plant species counting in experimental plots of prairie. The goal was to track an invasive plant, and what conditions it thrived in. The other SIFTer and I were recording what plants the scientists found in the plot. The scientists would choose a random spot in the plot, then throw down a PVC pipe square. They would tell us the plant’s name, and what percent it took up, and we would write that down on a checklist. After a while I could recognize the names of some of the more common plants in the plots. Doing each plot took some time, but it was fun and I enjoyed doing it.

Technician and former SIFTer/TERFer Alex Samuels (left) and SIFTer Peter Volmert (right) take a break from research to do battle.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Start of TERF July Session

It's that time again! July 1-26, Tyson will be getting a whole new batch of TERFers to spend the month exploring field ecology while embedded on a current research team. Let's meet the new ones!

Forest Team
  • Clayton Hillerman, Eureka HS
  • Hannah Walkowski, Fort Zumwalt North HS

Invasive Plants Team
  • Courtney Vishy, Francis Howell HS
  • Thomas Van Horn, Thomas Jefferson

Turtle Tracking Team
  • Ben Banet, St. Louis University HS
  • Mihika Nagpal, Visitation Academy