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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Woods Hole Partnership Education Program

July 20, 2017

Scientific Setbacks

Louis Randall, St. Mary's College of Maryland

SEA Semester

Sand under the microscope

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Of course there will always be small miscalculations; running out of microscope slides, minor lab math mishaps, or running out of that one magical reagent you forgot about. Now these kinds of things are generally no problem, a simple run to the store or an hour or two with a pencil and paper can fix these. But what happens if there is an issue with the project itself? After all there are deadlines to meet, supervisors to answer to, and other people relying on your results. No one likes to go back to the drawing board after they already spent so much time preparing themselves for their next big projects undertaking. But when we all signed up for this we knew that science isn’t always easy, in fact it hardly ever is.

In my case I was working on examining the distribution of micro plastics around the different beaches of Woods Hole. Generally, all this involves is taking a bucket of sand from where the waves are coming in on the beach, running it through a couple sieves, and pick out the pieces under a microscope after it all dries. Well that was the plan, until we realized that picking out a solitary piece of plastic from a petri dish full of sand and other small objects is literally like trying to find a needle in a haystack. This is especially difficult given one beach sample can have multiple petri dishes worth to sift through and then there are still more beaches to come. Given this problem my mentor, Dr. Scott Gallagher, and I had to go back to the drawing board as to how else this project could be done - the science still has to get done so some solution has to be found.

We have a new plan! Each beach will be represented with one petri dish and and we’re using a Raman microprobe scan across a single layer of particles to determine how much plastic there is. In theory, this will allow us create a decent representation of the micro plastic distribution around Woods Hole. Provided that nothing else happens this time it should all go according to plan.

- Louis

Categories: Woods Hole Partnership Education Program, • Topics: pep  life on shore  research • (0) Comments
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