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Week 6 Newsletter: July 9-13, 2018

RECCS is a 9-week summer student research program for Colorado community college students funded by the National Science Foundation and coordinated by CIRES Education Outreach and the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory.

For recent RECCS happenings, check out the RECCS blog.

CrowdMag Day for RECCS

The 2018 RECCS cohort (image above) joined RECCS student researcher Prudence Crawmer (front center) and her mentors Rick Saltus (front left) and Manoj Nair (back left) on a citizen-science session to collect geomagnetic field data for her research on the CrowdMag project. The team stops to collect data along the traverse using the CrowdMag smartphone app (image below).

RECCS Student Researcher Spotlight

This week, our first featured RECCS student researcher is Davin Duke. He is mentored by Jennifer Berry and Eleanor Brown (CIRES Fellow) of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of CIRES, based at CU Boulder's main campus.
Davin Duke

Research Project:  Investigating the Effects of Atmospheric Organic Nitrogen in Rocky Mountain National Park

Watch Davin's elevator speech

Davin Duke is a Colorado native. He was born in Colorado Springs and then grew up in the small town of Monument, Colorado. An avid skateboarder throughout his primary education, Davin enjoyed learning and achieving good grades throughout high school. Now residing in Colorado Springs, he attends Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC). He spends most of his time committed to his studies. In Spring 2018, Davin achieved the first college degree within his immediate familyan Associate of Science with designation in Biology.

Davin plans on continuing his studies with one more semester at PPCC and then later transferring to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, for a bachelor's degree in Environmental Engineering. As a native of Colorado, he plans to stay local and find a career and/or keep studying; he knows the learning will never end.

How much have the nitrogen levels risen?

Davin Duke and his mentor Jennifer Berry (above) are working on developing a passive sampler to investigate the effects of atmospheric organic nitrogen in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). 

The levels of atmospheric nitrogen (N) at RMNP have risen, causing a change from an N-limited ecosystem to an N-saturated system and this trend is expected to continue. N-saturation in forested ecosystems has been linked to harmful environmental effects, such as premature needle drop and decline in tree vigor. Davin is developing a passive sampler to be able to measure the nitrogen volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in RMNP. The VOCs from the sampler are then run through the chemical ionization mass spectrometer (CIMS), shown in the photo above, to determine the mass of the VOCs captured on the sampler. If an amine is found, they can use other resources to determine the original source of the nitrogen; this could result in policy changes to decrease the atmospheric nitrogen impacting Rocky Mountain National Park.
Davin first builds the passive sampler and then conditions the sampler before running a controlled experiment to create calibration curves that can be used later in Rocky Mountain National Park. To begin the experiment, Davin pumps nitrogen and a known amount of amines through the sampler/absorbent bed (in this case, activated charcoal or Tenax TA), which collects nitrogen Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) on the surface. Then, he uses heat to remove the nitrogen VOCs from the absorbent bed through a process called thermal desorption shown in the photo above.

These captured nitrogen VOCs break free and can then be pumped into the chemical ionization mass spectrometer (CIMS). CIMS measures the masses of the VOCs to indirectly determine the identity of each VOC. Once enough data are collected about the target VOCs, they will create calibration curves. The curves will be used as a tool for identifying VOC concentrations in the air of RMNP.

Communication Workshop Update


The students received group and individual feedback on their introduction section for their final poster and oral presentations. The students then each gave a 5-7 minute informal "whiteboard" talk to the group. During this "whiteboard" talk, students introduced and sketched out their projects with a focus on the methods section without the aid of notes. The students did a great job on these and we can easily see their growth over the last month!

We also discussed the AMS reference style, the importance of keeping good notes as they continue their research, and what goes into the methods section of their research for their final presentations.

RECCS Student Researcher Spotlight

This week, our second featured RECCS student researcher is Cora Rutledge. She is mentored by Mallory Choudoir and Noah Fierer (CIRES Fellow) of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of CIRES, based at CU Boulder's main campus.
Cora Rutledge

Research Project:  The Effect of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Emitted From Compost on Soil Microbes

Watch Cora's elevator speech

Cora is originally from Denver, Colorado where she spent most of her time reading, playing piano and participating in the high school marching band. From there she moved to Sterling, Colorado, a much smaller town in a farming community, to attend Northeastern Junior College (NJC). She entered college with the understanding that she wanted to study science, but it was at NJC that she realized that she was most interested in the field of microbiology. While she plans to take microbiology classes in the future, she took advantage of a work-study opportunity as a student to assist in the preparation and clean-up of the microbiology labs. This hands-on experience including assisting microbiology students with their projects has greatly influenced Cora and inspired her to want to learn more about the abundant, invisible communities of microorganisms.

At the end of her two years at NJC, Cora received an Associate of Science degree. She plans to attend a four-year university in the fall and later go on to obtain a master’s degree in microbiology which she will use to go into field research.

Exploring VOCs in Compost

Cora Rutledge and her mentor Mallory Choudoir (above) are testing the effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from compost, with a focus on the germination rates of spore-forming bacteria found in plant soil.  

A diverse amount of VOCs are emitted by plants, bacteria, and fungus; therefore, plant litter (such as compost) is a rich source of microbial VOCs. The primary goal of this project is to improve our limited understanding of how VOCs influence soil ecology. Cora has been working in the laboratory performing multiple experiments to study specifically how Bacillus microbes react to and interact with the emitted VOCs in compost. 
In Cora's lab setup, compost is placed in the bottom of a jar while the microbes have been streaked onto a petri dish on a stand that separates the compost from the petri dishes. Before streaking the soil microbes on to a petri dish, Cora "treats" these samples by boiling them which forces the Bacillus to form hardy spores, storing the genetic material until there is enough nutrients that the spore can form new cells.

Her research solely investigates the Bacillus spores because they are a one of the most resilient bacteria grown in the lab. After this, the samples are placed into the incubator (shown in the photo above) at 30 degrees Celsius to influence growth. This is done in order to determine how much the Bacillus spores have grown using the three different kinds of compost compared to the control with no compost. She quantifies the germination by counting the number of colony forming units (CFUs) and she inputs this into R programming language to output graphs. 

Student Tips

  • Identify your final project objectives and timeline for completion with your mentor.
  • Create and use a system to keep on top of final project deadlines.
  • Reach out for support, if needed, we're here to help you!

Student Deadlines

  • Draft your Methods section for your presentations.
  • Bring CV/Resume to the next workshop (7/18). 
  • Create and add to a draft of your References section as you go.

Mentor Tips

  • This is the time when the student researchers start to feel a bit worried about finishing their research. It’s a great time to take stock of where your student is and reassess and adjust the project if the original goal seems out of reach.
  • Check in with your student researcher regarding their concerns and consider sharing your approaches to dealing with deadlines and stress.
  • And, of course, let us know if we can help!
Copyright © 2018 CIRES Education Outreach, All rights reserved.


renee.curry@colorado.edu
 

RECCS is funded by the National Science Foundation Grant Award Number 1461281


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