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Science is BIG! (and small)

Science is BIG! (and small)
Testing the pH of some soil samples

Hello there blog readers! I have been doing a lot of lab work in the past few weeks. I decided to use this blog post to tell you about the BIG and the small of my project. Let’s start with the small. Lab work is small. Some of the things I am looking for in my soil samples are the carbon and nitrogen concentrations. There is a really fancy machine in the lab that I can use to figure this out but, in order to get the soil ready to go in the machine I have to weigh out 25 milligrams of soil and wrap it up in tin foil. Just for reference, 25 milligrams is less than the weight of two grains of rice, tiny.

small foil ball about 1/10 the size of a penny
One of the tins with 25 milligrams of soil in it, and a penny for size reference.

Another one of my lab analyses is determining the ammonium and nitrate concentrations in the soil. I go through a long procedure that results in lots of plates with tiny little wells that have pink or blue liquid in them. I put these plates in a machine that uses light to measure the color in each well to determine the ammonium and nitrogen concentrations. In the end, there are many plates with 96 wells on each plate and about 2 drops of liquid in each well, tiny.

Varying shades of pink and blue liquid droplets on plastic plates.
The colorful ammonium and nitrate test.


Lab work is small, but science is big! It is easy to get caught up in my tiny soil samples and little droplets of colored liquids and forget about the big picture, but all the small comes together to mean something big. Each tin of soil or drop of liquid represents a different area of the woods. When the results of these samples are combined, they represent an entire part of the woods that has been burned or not burned. That can give a good idea of how the soil reacts to burning practices in the arboretum and any other forest in a similar climate and environment. My results are limited to areas that are similar to the woods I sampled, but they can be combined with results that other researchers find in other areas. When put together, this can tell us something big about the world around us. That’s my favorite part about science, it is small, but when the tiny results are all put together it can mean something big!

Researcher using test tubes with soil and liquid in them and funnels over them.
Filtering samples for phosphate analysis under the watchful eye of the lab dinosaur.