No Fish Were Harmed in the Making of This…Oh. Wait.

The summer has gone by so fast! I guess that time does fly when you’re having fun.

Well. Mostly fun. Some things can get frustrating.

My project this summer (to be continued…fall semester) has involved the study of gill rakers. Specifically, the study of gill rakers across trophic niches.

Gill rakers = bony or cartilaginous spine-like things that are attached to the branchial arches of the fish (branchial arches are the structures that hold the gills!)

Very simplistically, they function like a colander > food particles get trapped and water just flows through.

(Red = food, Blue = water)

The gill rakers also have other cool qualities, like taste buds and mucous cells. But not much is known about their general location on the raker, or what exactly the raker is composed of.

So, since these are feeding structures, my definition of trophic niche = the delicious habit of EATING!

Fish are freaks. This has become the motto of our lab.

It truly is amazing how weird and unique fish are. Seriously. Pretty freaky. I can’t wait to get my own fish for fall semester.

Anyway, to collect data I’ve been doing microdissections and histological (tissue) staining. My results are pretty preliminary right now, but I’ve got the procedure down.

(Some) Things I Have Learned:

–       Microdissections are a good way to raise your blood pressure – good music is a MUST (thank you iTunes Radio – Top 50 Country)

–       Histological staining is like Easter egg staining ramped up 589840%

–       Pandora is a life saver

–       Creative uses for lab equipment

–       Wednesday lunches with all the biology research groups rock

–       While nerve-wracking, the symposium was a very positive and necessary experience


–       The Smithsonian is super, duper awesome

–       A sense of humor is crucial (thank you to my teammates and Dr. Staab)

–       Speaking of Dr. Staab…

Favorite Dr. Staabisms (Or, Things that Dr. Staab Said that I Found Hilarious)

–       These cups are from the civil war

–       You have to look for the sticky-outy parts

–       Just add a goodly amount

–       They’re saying random things, does that mean garden burger?

–       Anything about fonts

–       Jazziest

–       SQUIRREL!

–       Is that gonapodium or are you happy to see me? Wait, I haven’t taken the harassment training yet, does that count?

–       I’m the boss, so listen to me (not meanly, but as a compliment. Somehow)

In Conclusion:

Overall, I am so, so incredibly thankful for this summer. Not only did I learn A LOT of new things about science and the research process, but I got a chance to interact with the professors of my major on levels that transcend the classroom experience in all the good ways. I made new friends and had many laughs.

Beyond that, my passion for my chosen path (thus far) has been rekindled. Within the last year, I was questioning my decision to be a biology major, to pursue a career in the sciences.

This summer made me see past that.

Bringing in some poetry (hang in there), I think these lines perfectly describe what I feel, here at the end of my seven weeks:

“An Horatian Notion” - Thomas Lux

You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere.
And with that you go to work. 

Weeks 4 and 5 – EPE

“What are we going to do for Dr. Laird’s birthday next Monday?” (stay tuned)

You will have to excuse my neglect to write last week’s blog, my forgetfulness was in full swing and I carried on with my weekend without any thoughts about blogs on my mind.

Anyways, last week marked the mid-point of our training program. The term ‘mid-point’ to some may bring feelings of jubilation or even euphoria! Unfortunately, for our team members participating in the study it stirred feeling of malice, discomfort, and dread. We had to perform our second VO2max test of the study, which fell on either Tuesday or Friday.

Tuesday’s tests went rather smoothly except for a minor glitch in our system that spit out data which showed that some of our participants had stroke volumes and cardiac outputs of genetically altered humans turned heroes (i.e. Spiderman or Captain America) or carbon dioxide and oxygen consumption values of plants. So, we learned a lot about trouble shooting systems and how to hand calculate results.

Wednesday was an unusually light day of data analysis, so we all headed to Dr. McCole’s house for a relaxing couple of hours away from campus. I had my first encounter with a pickle burger and I haven’t looked back since! They were absolutely the best burgers I have ever consumed in my twenty-one years on this Earth! With some apple crisp to top off the day, we all drove home with full bellies filled with some quality home cooked goodness.

Thursday and Friday flowed without flaw for the most part. We ran some training sessions on Thursday and finished up the mid-way VO2max tests on Friday. At this point Dr. Laird was basking in the Outer Banks on a little vacation so we compiled a plan about what to do for his birthday, which was on Monday.


So it was Monday, and as promised I have to tell you what we decided to do for Dr. Laird’s birthday. Last Friday we decided to order him an action figure of a Navy Seal. If you have had any interactions with Dr. Laird, you understand how much respect he has for our military forces, especially the Navy Seals. So we thought, ‘why not give him a super cute action figure he can stick right on his desk!’ Therefore, this is exactly what we did ladies and gentlemen. On Monday however, it hadn’t gotten to our trusted postal office so we had no choice but to wait.

We also came back into the lab on Monday morning and it was a scorcher. From what I can recall it was 80% humidity and at one point got up to 25 degrees Celsius. We were able to get a dehumidifier for our lab so that helped a ton. We also had both fans blowing to help circulate the air. Omitting this small obstacle from the first and hardest day of the week, our training regimen went very smoothly on both Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday the group went out for lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings and it was delicious! This was when we presented our extravagant gift to Dr. Laird. We also had a waiter announce to the entire peanut gallery that it was his birthday. Needless to say, he was thrilled. After lunch we called it a day and a few of us even decided to exercise on our day off!

On Thursday, three of us suited up in electrodes to give the new and improved cardiac output system a whirl. Turns out we all had pretty believable numbers! So that was quite exciting. Also, I must mention the fact that we have been streaming the world cup live on our big screen down here and it is wonderful! Helps pass the time quite nicely if I do say so myself.

Friday is always the best day! But this Friday was the best because it marks the very last day of our training! WOOHOO! This also meant that we had to remember to do cortisol for our participants. Not to mention, it is a gorgeous day outside!

Next week we are gearing up for final testing!

Coming to you live from the HIIT Team

Squares, Quartics, and More!

Math research can certainly be challenging, but when Dr. Hamblen told me that he, Sam, and I would be working with squares, I thought how hard could that be? That answer, very! We have been working away at using squared quaternions (basically one step more complicated than imaginary numbers)  to make any quaternion, in as few steps as possible. As if this wasn’t enough, we are working with a value of i, which when squared is not a square. How can a square not be a square?? Luckily these questions are just as interesting as they are complicated, and this summer should be full of interesting discoveries. We are currently working with i squared is equal to negative two, and will continue to push our brains to think of new creative solutions!

Adventures in Hashawha

Ecological research is certainly full of excitement.

In our pursuit of knowledge, Meghan and I donned our waders, grabbed our nets, and traveled into the mysterious wilds of Lake Hashawha toward our target.

Our target you ask? The majestic dragonfly, or more specifically, their larvae. dragonfly These cricket-esque creatures are one of the top invertebrate predators in these types of aquatic environments, preying upon mosquito larvae, small tadpoles, and each other. Dragonfly larvae live mostly solitary lives, using substrate from their habitat to hide from predators and ambush prey.

Through our adventures in lake Hashawha, we encountered some of life’s most perplexing questions. Can one pull himself out of knee-deep mud pits using a friendly tree branch? Is crawling off of a dock into the mouth of an awaiting fish an evolutionarily advantageous behavior of dragonfly larvae? Do fish actually need water to survive?

That fish was not a happy camper.

That fish was not a happy camper.

Using our nets and a hint of cunning, we captured some larvae and placed them into our high-tech behavioral arenas to study activity level and hiding behavior.

Those are highly sophisticated pool noodles, for your information.

For your information, those are highly sophisticated pool noodles.

With our arenas in the water and our behavioral trials commenced, we could finally begin the most annoying enjoyable aspect of our research; explaining to the countless families visiting Hashawha just what in the world we were doing.