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What do scientists do?

Posted by on February 8, 2012

Hold your horses!
Cool your jets!
Take it down a notch!
Take a chill pill!

The English language is wonderfully redundant — there are many ways to say the same thing. It turns out that a bacterial community is also redundant too.

In my “day job” I do full time research on aquatic bacteria.

Background Research: Bacteria are the world’s recyclers. Bacterial communities that live in lakes, streams, estuaries and oceans take large environmental molecules that other organisms can’t use and convert them into smaller and usable molecules for the primary producers (for example: phytoplankton). That means bacteria –as small as they are– are critical for the global scale processing and movement of elements such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, & iron.

I am interested in how variations on the smallest scales (microscopic) ultimately impact their ability to do their “job” on the largest scales (global). So I combined a dilution-regrowth experimental design with a well-known method for making organic aggregates (i.e. suspended particles = aquatic micro-habitat) to answer the question:

How does community size affect the number of carbon sources a community could break down?

My hypothesis was:

IF the community size was reduced, THEN the number of substrates used would be reduced too.

Today I published my research –here is the abstract:

Unfortunately, you will have to go to a university library to get the whole paper, but I wanted students and parents to see that many of the parts of their science fair projects translate into items that “real scientists” do. For example, I took a lot of photos (just like a photo log) and maintained a notebook. I made a poster (like a backboard) which will be presented at a national scientific conference in Utah next month (just like a science fair – but no judging). I also wrote a research paper and that included an abstract, an introduction, a section on methods and materials, several graphs and tables for the data that my colleague and I generated, a discussion of those results, and a conclusion.


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