It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over and the Undergraduate Research Fellowship is coming to a close. I'll use this final blog post to tell you about the results of the science I did here this summer and how this fellowship impacted me as a scientist and a person. Let’s start with the science! One of the main things I worked on in my time at the Arboretum this summer was science communication. I have been learning and studying science for years, but it’s harder than you think to communicate that science to others, especially to people in different fields. One of the ways we practiced this was communicating our research using only the 1,000 most commonly used words in the english language. So here’s my attempt of telling you what I did this summer using only the 1,000 most commonly used words.
Controlled burning is a way to control the woods and help trees grow. However, little is known about how burning changes the ground. Studying the ground under our feet will help to better understand how burning changes the entire woods. We looked at the ways the ground changes when the woods are burned in areas with different types of trees. We asked two questions: (1) Does the ground change with controlled burning? (2) Does tree type change the what burning does to the ground? We found that the ground in burned areas is different than not burned areas, but different types of trees do not change the the ground or change the burning. Humans need some stuff in our bodies to grow and live, trees also need stuff from the ground to grow and live. We think that there is more of some stuff in the ground in burned areas, which may help the trees that need that stuff. Burning also lets in more light which can help some trees grow. What we found in this study should be considered when deciding if we should use controlled burns.
Besides learning a whole lot about soil, field work, lab testing, and communicating, this fellowship gave me a better idea of what it’s like to be a scientist and think like a scientist. I got a lot of great practice asking questions about the world around me and trying to figure out how it’s working. I learned that scientific research always produces more questions than answers. In this project, we found some changes in the soil with burning. This raises many new questions. How are those changes are affecting trees and other plants and animals in the forest? Does burning always make these changes to the soil or only in some areas of the world? Is buning changing things other than the soil too? When these questions are answered, they will raise new ones. We will never fully understand the entire world, so there will always be more questions and more scientists to try to answer them.
This research experience taught me to think about the world in a different way, and see beauty in the details of an ecosystem. I find it truly amazing how every little piece is necessary for the world to be the way it is.
I will wrap up this post by thanking everyone who made this summer so amazing. Dr. Meghan Midgley was an amazing mentor and taught me so much about soil and about being a scientist. Many people helped immensely with lab and field work including, Michelle Catania the Soil Science Research Assistant, all the phenomenal volunteers in the Soil Science Lab, and Ali McGarigal. Christine Carrier ran this program very smoothly I thank her tremendously for everything she has done. Jessica Turner-Skoff was a wonderful resource to have and taught us all so much about science communication. All the other fellows were a great support system and marvelous people I am so happy to have gotten to know them this summer. My time at The Morton Arboretum has been oodles of fun!