When I accepted my internship offer for this summer, I had visions of growing plants, feeding butterflies, and using scientific principles I had learned thus far in my undergraduate career. Instead, after my first month of living at the Biological Station, I have discovered that a lot of Ecology is… mechanics.
I’m not talking about the mechanics you learn in Physics 1. I’m talking about taking apart machines and computers and figuring out why they are broken or malfunctioning and fixing them. This was not what I envisioned an ecology field technician internship to be like. But luckily for me, this is something I find intensely satisfying and highly interesting. In our world of “if it’s broken, get a new one”, I think that the skills and mindset required to fix the things you have is an art slowly fading away.
So far, we have taken apart and repaired “blower boxes” – metal boxes that contain a fan and a carbon dioxide input that blow carbon dioxide gas into our chambers that contain the milkweed. We have taken apart and repaired pumps that transfer the gas from the chambers back to the analyzer so we can tell how much carbon dioxide is in the chambers. We have fixed plate readers, computers, and chambers. And I have learned that ecology is not just about comparing plant sizes and analyzing diets of animals. It is about the process and using what you have available to discover the inner workings of ecosystems and trophic interactions. And with this new insight, my love for ecology is ever more heightened.
While we have been taking things apart and putting them back together, we have been slowly moving our way towards the start of the experiment – and we have finally made it! The 1,120 plants are growing in our CO2 array, we are getting a weekly delivery of new gas tanks, and constant monitoring of the system has begun. A new chapter has arrived and although my vision of this job has changed, my excitement for it certainly has not. So here’s to new visions and growing caterpillars – until June!
The back of the computer we were trouble shooting.
The inner-workings of the pump that transfers the gas.