Baker students conducted summer research in the Baker Wetlands – The Baker Orange
Over the summer, five Baker students were selected to live in the Baker Wetlands for eight weeks to conduct research. From June 7 to August 1, the students lived and worked at the Wakarusa field station throughout their stay. It was the first time that the field station served as a site for students to conduct research.
The students involved in the research were Junior David Popp, Junior Allie Renfro, Senior Elaena Steffen, Junior Jennifer Tidd and Junior Ryan Upham. Izabella Bobadilla, junior at the Illinois Institute of Technology, also joined.
With the help of Associate Professor of Biology, Dr Scott Kimball, Assistant Professor of Biology, Dr Randy Miller, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Dr Robert Schukei and since retirement Dr Mahmoud Al-Kofahi, they have worked for combine different students and disciplines to carry out the research project on tardigrades. A tardigrade is a microscopic organism that lives on moss and lichen and can be found in all bodies of water. Also called “water bear”.
“We developed a program for which we wrote a grant to NSF, the National Science Foundation, to study a collaboration between these different disciplines to help automate the tardigrade research process,” Kimball said.
Students were invited directly by their professors to apply for the internship due to their valuable skills.
The five Baker students and one selected student from the Illinois Institute of Technology came from three different disciplines, biology, engineering, and computer science, all to work on this project.
The scholarship awarded to these professors by the NSF was $ 256,849. The objective of the project is to wrap up in three years from the start date, but have students post their work as they go.
“We will post things as we go. And students will present things as opportunities arise, students who have worked this summer will likely continue to complete some of the work they have been doing, either here on campus or in their spare time. ” Kimball said.
Steffen was part of the IT team, along with Renfro and worked on creating an app for research. The goal of the application is to reduce the time required for researchers to download their data. Instead of transferring it to a workbook and then putting the data on a Microsoft Excel sheet, they can do it right in the app, cutting off the middle.
“We usually start around 8 a.m. and go in and work in the lab for about four hours,” Steffen said. “Biology students would study tardigrades and physicists would work on their projects. Allie and I were working on our IT project, working on creating an app to help collect tardigrades. “
Steffen is grateful for the internship as it allowed her to discover new things and meet new people.
“I was a little nervous at the start, but it was a really good experience,” said Steffen. “It was a bit tight. The [were] four of us in a room together, [but] it was nice to be so close to our job and to connect with people i had never met before so it was a good opportunity.
Steffen has learned many valuable experiences and lessons from this internship that she hopes she can apply to her career later.
“I think I got a lot out of it, especially [in] the career meaning of learning a lot of new programs that I’ve never experienced before and having to really work on my own, ”said Steffen. “Having the kind of unstructured stuff that you’re not used to in school and really learning everything as you go is very interesting.”
Popp was another student selected for the internship, his discipline being biology, working alongside Tidd.
For Popp’s research portion, he would take moss and lichen samples from trees and rocks the team had discovered in the field and submerge them underwater. After six hours, the tardigrades would “wake up” allowing Popp to take three photos of each tardigrade on a slide. After a few days, when the slides dried out, they were handed over to engineering students to stamp the slides.
“From there came the identification, so Jennifer and I worked with Dr. Miller to find out the main characteristics and identify them. There were so many, there are reds, there are some that are yellow and almost neon under a microscope, and they look like little rocks, ”Popp said.
Popp is very pleased with the work the team has done over the summer and is excited to add his work in the tardigrade area.
“I’m proud that we were able to contribute science in a unique way because they had never done a Kansas survey before for the tardigrades. We were actually the first people to ever exist, ”said Popp.
Throughout those eight weeks, the students bonded not only through their research, but also by doing activities together. They even went to Worlds of Fun together as a team during their final weeks of internship.
Kimball knows that this internship will help all of the students who have participated and allow them to have government funded research on their resumes before they graduate from college.
“At the end of the day, what happens is that we have the support of this government entity which when we publish articles with our students [they] can say that, ”said Kimball. “So when they leave the project, they will have publications that they will submit to journals and they will have presentations that they will bring to conferences. All of this will be accompanied by the NSF logo as it will say “Funded by the National Science Foundation”.