On The Road Again

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Hello from Maryland! I am enjoying my few days home before I go back to Juniata College. I have completed my internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It was an amazing experience and I am so glad that I was able to go. I learned many new researching skills, added interns and researchers to my network, and now have knowledge about fine roots, peatlands, and image analysis software.

Challenges & Successes

One thing not all my readers may know is that I have Crohn’s Disease. Unfortunately, I had a flare during the end of July and I spent one week in the hospital. The picture below perfectly expresses how trapped I felt; I wanted to go outside. I am very lucky to have to coworkers and the community that I do here. I had many visitors, including my mentor. I also was blessed to have so many people at home thinking of me and sending me flowers. I have spent quite some time now on the road to recovery. Luckily, I had already completed all my research, my poster, and just needed to wrap up my technical report. I am grateful that Department of Energy permitted me to complete my internship part time.

On my second day back at the lab, I presented my poster to other interns and researchers in the Environmental Sciences Division. It was exciting to share my research with so many people and to show how much I had accomplished regardless of my setbacks.

On August 9th, I had the opportunity to present my poster for researchers from all of ORNL, graduate recruiters, and other interns. It was really fun to be able to share my research with other scientists and interns. I am glad I felt healthy enough to be able to make it there.

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Other Environmental Science Division interns. Middle: Cameron Toerner, Right: Abbygail Ochs
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Presenting my poster on August 9th
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My Poster

In the future, I am excited to be able to attend the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Washington, DC in December to present my research with my mentor.

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Research Results

My internship is now complete (well, when I submit the paper). That being said, I am very excited to finally be able to share the results of my research. If you need to refresh yourself more on the topic than what I am about to share, please go visit my post about Week 1.

I want to start by sharing this video from Department of Energy, highlighting the SPRUCE project as a whole. It is a great video to explain the long term goals of the project.

Above is an image of the poster I presented, which highlights important aspects of my results and conclusions. However, the image would be very small and hard to read if I pasted it here, so I broke it down below.

I have also included my 300-word abstract above the poster. Both convey basically the same thing, but the abstract is more developed content-wise and uses more complex language. The poster was designed as a visual aid for easy and quick reading, but also includes the graphs.

Choose the one that best fits your needs or read both!!

Abstract:

Quantifying fine-root branching response to experimental ecosystem warming utilizing image analysis software

Stephanie Letourneau (Juniata College, Huntingdon, PA 16652)

Avni Malhotra (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37830)

Colleen Iversen (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37830)

Peatlands store large amounts of soil carbon and this carbon is vulnerable to global change. Peatland carbon, if released into the atmosphere, could feedback into global warming via increased atmospheric greenhouse gases. Fine roots are adaptive and integral to biogeochemical processes due to their role in plant nutrient and water acquisition. Thus, the fine-root trait-environment relationships are key to modeling whole-ecosystem responses to climate change. For example, branching intensity (a root trait describing number of branch tips per unit length of root) can adapt to changing moisture and temperature, but the extent and mechanism of root branching in peatlands is unknown. Further, environmental responses of branching relative to other traits, such as root length and diameter, are unclear in peatlands, and can relate to plant resource allocation strategies. We sought to determine (1) if image analysis software (WinRHIZO™) can be used to evaluate branching intensity and (2) whether shrub fine-root branching intensity increases with warming (and associated drying). To address these objectives, we analyzed images of fine roots collected from cores at the “Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments” (SPRUCE) experiment. In SPRUCE, ten experimental plots provide temperature and atmospheric CO2 gradients. WinRHIZO™’s tip counts did not correlate with manual counts (R2= 0.56, p<0.001), especially in images with numerous roots. Thus, for objective (2), we manually counted root tips in images. We found no significant relationship between branching intensity and warming in the ambient CO2 plots, indicating that branching may not be the first trait responsive to warming. Rather, fine-root length responded strongly to warming. Conversely, in plots with elevated CO2, branching and temperature correlated strongly and positively (R2=0.84, p =0.03). This result suggests that branching response to warming varies by CO2 concentrations. Our study provides valuable data on root traits for future global climate and peatland models.

Poster:

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Results and Discussion

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THIS LABEL IS SUPPOSED TO BE ON THE GRAPH ON THE RIGHT:

ρ=0.9, p-value=0.04

(copy and paste does not agree with me)

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I would like to thank my mentor Dr. Avni Malhotra and my co-interns for all of the support and encouragement along this journey!!! I learned so much and I had fun while doing it.

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Surprise!!

While I was ill, I received an email from Lee Popkin, the director of the John Muir Scholarship from the Sierra Club Catoctin Group. I received the John Muir Scholarship from the club when I was a senior in high school to support my college tuition. I have kept in touch with him and gave him updates on my educational adventures. I am very honored that the club has offered me an additional scholarship to help with my tuition and study abroad in the spring. It is great that the program is evolving to be able to do this! I am very grateful and I am excited they have been so supportive of my journey.

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Moving Forward

My next adventure is the beginning of my junior year at Juniata College! I have been looking forward to this semester since I was in high school. I am going to be living and taking all my classes at the Raystown Field Station. This semesters theme is Aquatic Ecology, which will allow me to further study the freshwater ecosystems in Pennsylvania. When I say I am living at the lake, I really mean it. Look how close it is!!

From Juniata.edu RFS

At the field station, classes are divided by days, except Nature Photography, which is an evening course. Here’s my course list and descriptions from the schedule.

  • Limnology: “An ecology/environmental science course covering inland aquatic environments (lakes and streams).”
  • Aquatic Ecology and Lab: “They will focus one or more special environmental skills, methods, approaches or technologies. In the lecture component of this course, we will focus on concepts and vocabulary central to understanding the science of Ecology as applied to freshwater systems. We will investigate the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of wetlands, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.”
  • Geographical Information System: “An introduction to a Geographical Information System (GIS), and the course objective is that students gain a basic, partial understanding of GIS concepts, technical issues, and applications using Arc View GIS. It encourages thinking in spatial context. A diverse array of hands-on computer applications and projects are used to understand how geographical data can be analyzed spatially. Students explore analysis techniques in a problem basis learning approach using small team projects.”
  • Sense of Place Seminar: “This is the “cornerstone” of the Sense of Place semester, managed by one faculty, but comprised of a series of modules taught by various faculty and guest speakers. Module topics cover a range of environmental, ecological, and societal issues connecting to the region. Students will be expected to journal their experiences at RFS as well as complete other writing assignments.”
  • Nature Photography: not much of a description exists but you can imagine what this is. Expect many cool photos this fall!
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See You Soon!

I am traveling to Juniata August 17th to begin preseason for cheerleading, moving into the field station on the 22nd, then starting courses on the 23rd. I will be driving back to campus for cheerleading practice and games while I am studying and living at the lake. I am very fortunate to be able to enjoy both of these opportunities this fall.

Toto, I’ve got a feeling we aren’t in Maryland anymore

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Greetings from Tennessee!!

So yes, I have started my internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory already and I am very behind on updates. However, this should be exciting because that means I am having a lot of fun, so I will have cool things to write about.

We began our journey on June 1st. My brother and my mom drove down to Oak Ridge with me. It was certainly a challenge to get everything stuffed into the car. When we were halfway there, I decided I had enough energy to keep driving so we ended up in Oak Ridge that night. The next day was spent moving my stuff and visiting with my aunt, my cousins, and her lovely children.

On Sunday, I attended a pre-orientation picnic at Clark Center Park for all the interns at the lab. It was a chance to meet people, ask questions, and sign up for activity groups. There was also free food (this is a continuation of my food tour from my last post). I had a pulled pork sandwich. After all, barbecue is a Tennessee specialty. I met some cool people I still talk to, but I realized quickly that we will not be seeing each other much due to being in different divisions and on completely different sides of the campus.

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Photo booth at the picnic…PC: Manda Boisvert

Monday, June 4th was my first day! I got to the lab early to avoid having to wait in a long line during the badging process. Each intern had to get processed through the visitor center to get a badge and an email log in. It did not take me long so I had some down time to mingle and eat lunch.  Orientation programming did not begin until 12pm so we actually waited for awhile. The program was very short compared to my NOAA orientation. We heard from some officials at the lab and from the representatives at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education about the lab in general and about our specific appointment details.

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Representing Juniata College
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Friends at orientation
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After the presentations were over, we got to meet our mentors, finally.  They lined up to use the microphone to call out our names. It felt like we were getting picked for the Hunger Games except you want your name to be called. My name was called and my journey really began.

The first few days were full of training and reading about the project I was going to be working within. There was online training, reading, and then in lab training to learn about specific lab hazards. There are many interns in my division this summer and everyone is very cool. I share my office with another intern and we have become great friends! It is a lot of fun meeting new people from all over the place.

My mentor is Avni Malhotra, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Environmental Sciences Division. For her doctoral research, she studied the ecosystem structure-function links in peatlands. She currently is studying fine root dynamics at ORNL. Although we have only been working with each other for a few weeks now, I feel very lucky to have her as my mentor. She brings advice from her personal life and from her many facets of educational experiences. I also have been enjoying getting to know the other researchers in our division and hearing about their careers. They might not realize it, but every story they tell helps guide my future.

The project I am working on is called “Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE)”. I encourage you to read more about it from the official website. The project is simulating climatic changes to determine the effects of increased temperature and carbon dioxide at varying increments in peatlands. These ecosystems are large carbon sinks. With increased atmospheric temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, there is a threat of positive feedback onto the atmosphere and climate. As you can imagine, there is quite a variety of researchers working on this project. These are the beginning years of this long term project and it is very exciting to be part of this full ecosystem analysis.

What is my role in this project? My mentor is focused on fine root dynamics in the ecosystems. Specifically, she is interested in the branching intensity of these roots. So that is what I will be working on this summer.  I am looking for differences between the different treatment plots and determining if branching correlates with any of the treatments. My first week has been spent reading a lot of literature that relates to this, because fine roots and branching is an area of science I have not spent a lot of time in. It has been engaging to learn something completely new and be able to have the curiosity and the resources to further the studies.

How am I going to do this? The lab has ingrowth soil core samples from each plot at the site which look like this (except a longer tube because they get cut):

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They fill these with peat and place them in the ground to collect the fine roots growing at a certain time period. They get cut to account for the depth in the ground. In the lab, we search through these soil samples for roots using forceps, jewelers glasses, and lamps. After you pick through the soil, the roots are then classified and ordered. The root samples then get scanned to become an image for analysis of length, diameter, tips, etc. The roots are later dried, ground, and sent off for nutrient testing to determine the amount of carbon in them.

At the end of the first week, I was able to spend a lot of time working with these cores. We call the process “root picking”.  It is tedious but the data is important for future studies. I will have updates about my progress but overall I will most likely wait until the end of my project when I have a poster and a paper to share for my final results. I am excited to see where this project takes me!

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Root Picking Views
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Jewelers glasses

As part of my internship appointment, there are required seminars and events to attend. During the first week, I learned about the publication database, Web of Science, and it has become my best friend. It was neat to see all of its different features, and I have definitely found it to be very useful.

I also had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call among researchers in SPRUCE. I loved being able to hear about all the different studies going on just on this one project. Since it is a whole ecosystem study, everything is pretty much covered!

Bring Your Child to Work Day was the first Friday of my internship so it was nice to see all the little kids running around.  Also, they had a fundraiser on campus for United Way and were selling ice cream sundaes!!  What a great end of the week.

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Rewind to the beginning of the week….

On Tuesday, it was time to say goodbye to my mom and my brother. My aunt and I sent them off at the Knoxville airport and tearfully watched them fly off. No worries, your favorite mother-daughter duo will be back together for a weekend in July.

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Posing in the airport
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See you later!

Weekend Fun

On Friday, I experienced Knoxville for the first time with a friend and he showed me around. We had yummy greek food at Yassin’s Falafel House and walked around Market Square. I was surprised how small the social area was but it was certainly cute and a nice area. I also saw the Sunsphere at World’s Fair Park.

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Tennessee Theater in Knoxville

On Saturday, I slept in. It was great and much needed. I then went with some friends to the Secret City Festival in Oak Ridge! The festival celebrates Oak Ridge’s rich history with music, vendors, and food. We met up with some other interns and now I have a much larger friend group than before.  For lunch, I had another barbecue sandwich. Then, some of us went to dinner afterward at a pizza parlor called The Tomato Head in Knoxville.

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Secret City Festival
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Sunday was spent getting ready for the week ahead. I visited with my aunt and my baby cousin. I wish I could remember more but honestly these days fly by. I spend a majority of my time during the week at the gym and/or the lake. Running at the lake is quite beautiful, and it’s nice to get moving after sitting all day in the lab or my office. I also have discovered the local farmers market and it’s really nice to get fresh produce.

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Melton Hill Lake

I am going to work on writing Week 2 updates ASAP!

I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you.  It has been a lot of fun so far. I love what I am studying and I have really learned a lot about what I want to do with my future. I just have to find the time to relax and reflect on this journey. I am appreciative of everyone who has been so supportive so far.

See you next week!

P.S.  Here’s my cute little bio posted in the break room for the Climate Change Institute and surrounding offices.

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