7/15/22: from the forest to the garden

This week was jam-packed with REU activities, from further research pitch practice runs, to a fun and informative trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden. On Monday, we had students from UIC’s internship program visit us at the arboretum. We participated in a speed-date-like scenario where arboretum folks were paired with a student from UIC’s program and we each gave a quick pitch describing our project. It felt a little bit awkward in the beginning, but by the end of the exercise everyone was pitching their research as confidently as a veteran podcaster reading an ad for Uber Eats. I’m getting a little off topic here. Make sure to check out UIC’s internship program and all the cool and important research they’re doing on monarch butterflies! Quick update on the waterlogging trees: still patiently awaiting sufficient root growth. In the meantime, don’t miss out on the other adventures we went on this week, including taking soil measurements with a po-go stick and exploring a majestic urban garden!

Recorded soil moisture measurements

Okay, so maybe a TDR soil moisture meter isn’t exactly the same thing as a po-go stick, but it sure looks like one! For those of you who have never heard of TDR (which also included me up until a couple of days ago), it stands for time-domain reflectometry. The TDR soil moisture meter works by sending electrical pulses into the ground and indirectly measuring how much water is in the soil based on how long it takes those energy waves to be reflected back to the sensors. The higher the moisture content (i.e. the more water) the slower the pulses will travel. Think about it this way, do you move faster in water or on land? Your answer is probably “land” unless you are a dolphin or Michael Phelps.

This is the perfect time to introduce you to the Root Lab’s newest member, Sarah Romy! Sarah can be seen on the left using the TDR meter along with Marvin, Isabella, and me. How many Root Lab cohorts does it take to screw in a soil moisture meter? I guess the answer is four. Back to Sarah, who has already been a huge help to us this summer in the forestry plots in addition to other assessments she has been making on previous seasons’ minirhizotron images. Having interned with an entomologist at the arboretum named Fred Miller, she comes equipped with a vast fund of insect related knowledge. She also just happened to become the owner of a very cute German shepherd pup. Now, I’m not promising any cute puppy pictures in future blog posts, but it looks like you will have to keep tuning in to find out.

Visited the Chicago Botanic Garden

Another REU scheduled event involved a field trip to CBG where we had the opportunity to explore their current research projects and facilities. We started off the morning with a tour of the labs. Research focuses ranged from seed banking, paleobotany, population ecology, and more. After a tasty Mediterranean lunch where I had more than my fair share of hummus, we listened to a panel of current/post-graduate students share their experiences in science, research, and school. Over the last couple of months at Morton, listening, asking questions, and being open to hearing other peoples’ stories has been really helpful in trying to navigate my own professional and academic future. I would encourage anyone who has questions about a career in science to stay curious and ask for help and/or advice from scientists you know (and reach out to those you don’t know)!

Former employee of the arboretum, Andrew Munoz, recently took his plant breeding skills to CBG. Now he spends his time monitoring plants in the Plant Evaluation Garden.

Above is one of the three greenhouses we were able to tour at CBG. This was one of my personal favorites!

Here are some snapshots of CBG’s Bonsai collection. One is over 800 years old! Think about all of the people who have cared for and manicured these trees over the centuries. What a cool visual representation of human and plant relations.

Bug business

So much has happened with our little friends since the last blog update. There have been break-ups, new editions, career changes, literal metamorphoses, you name it and these fellas have lived it! They should really have their own reality show to keep up with all their happenings, but for now a few photo updates will have to do.

We found this red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis) caterpillar in one of our forestry plots and Marv took him home for a photoshoot.