Monday, November 28, 2016

Empire

"From the rain
Comes a river running wild that will create
An empire for you
Illuminate!
There's a river running wild that will create
An empire for you"
- "Empire" by Of Monsters and Men

Friends, last Thursday was Thanksgiving in the United States, so I used the holiday weekend to spend time with family. My parents and brother made their way out to Cape Cod, and I was eager to show them my new place in the world. They got to see Main Street and downtown Falmouth. I showed them my office in Woods Hole and the dock communities I've fallen in love with. The Cape is my domain, my new arena, and I relished the chance to show it off. It was a lovely weekend. 

Dad, Wes, and I on a floating dock in Woods Hole's Little Harbor.
Photo by Angela Meyer.

Slipper limpet shells on a beach in Falmouth
Falmouth Harbor
Showing my brother a bryozoan on a dock in Eel Pond, right outside my building.
Photo by Angela Meyer
Falmouth Harbor

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Windy city

"I just blew in from the windy city
The windy city is mighty pretty
But they ain't got what we got"
- the musical Calamity Jane
Blustery and beautiful. Seen from Woods Hole village

Man, is it windy in Woods Hole today! My bike ride to work took fully twice as long as usual this morning, because I was battling a strong headwind the whole way. This air is bitingly cold and furiously fast.

I decided to grit my teeth and visit my settlement plates, no matter how strong the wind was. They've only been out for a week, so I didn't expect much to be living on them yet, and I was right. They were covered in a thin film, but there weren't any animals yet. Barnacles around here usually settle in February-March, so I may have a long time to wait.

In the meantime, I'm working indoors to set up new projects. My succession study will have a field component and hopefully also a lab component, so I'm working with my advisor, Lauren, to design a productive and worthwhile study. The project is just outside the realm of my current knowledge (for the record, I designed it that way), so I'm hoping to glean a lot from Lauren's expertise. It is so important for scientists to be exposed to different questions, different methods, different ways of approaching scientific problems. I'm grateful that I've landed at WHOI, where I have an advisor who points me in the right direction and keeps me from blowing off-course.

Now, if I could just turn off the wind for my bike ride home!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The manifesto

Friends, it has been a long day.

When I came into my office this morning, I thought I would have a slow start. As it turns out, several important things happened while I was away from my e-mail, and all of them showed up in my inbox this morning. 

For one, my inbox held three different requests from other scientists for a copy of a paper I had written. It's not unusual for scientists to ask each other for papers, even if they've never met before (as was the case with all three of my requesters), but the paper they were requesting was (I thought) not even published yet! It had been accepted months ago but was still in production - or so I thought.

Well, turns out the paper had just appeared online. Find it here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0065288116300335

I'm very proud of this particular paper, because it served as the introduction to my dissertation, and in a way, it has become my manifesto. When people ask what I specialize in, I find myself almost reciting the title. It serves as my statement to the world and a course I've charted for the rest of my career. 

Peruse the manuscript if you will, and feel free to contact me with your feedback or ideas. I'm awfully proud of this one. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Feel invincible

"You make me feel invincible,
Earthquake, powerful
Just like a tidal wave
You make me brave"
- "Feel Invincible" by Skillet

There is something so satisfying about working with my hands. Starting with raw materials and shaping them into a product. I love having something I can point to at the end of the day and say "I built that."

In preparation for my succession study, I wanted to outplant racks of settlement plates on some docks around WHOI. The plates are really just for me to play around with - nothing quantitative or high-pressure. I'll monitor them over the winter and early spring just to see what is where and get familiar with identifying small recruits of the local species. I should also double-check if my assumption that barnacles recruit first to a substratum is actually true.

My creations
Well, settlement plates don't just fall out of the sky; I had to build them. Fortunately, my advisor had enough supplies from previous studies to let me scavenge what I needed from her scraps. We pulled out PVC from a warehouse, lexan from a nook in her office, and rope from an old, smelly crate in the lab.

To cut all the pieces, I needed some pretty hefty power tools, which meant getting an orientation from the WHOI facilities team. One particularly helpful employee found a chop saw and a drill press for me to use, then trained me on how to not lose any fingers. The plates had to be cut with a table saw, which was only available in the WHOI carpentry shop, so I also got an assist from some employees there.

It took a while to assemble all the necessary materials and equipment, but it was worth it! I plan on using a lot of settlement plates for various projects in the near future, so it's nice to have all the tools I need to make more. I'm grateful for the variety of facilities available at WHOI and for helpful people to show me around.

After assembling the PVC frames, I peeled the backing off of the clear plates, roughened each of the them with sandpaper, and tied them on with zip ties. It was a multi-step process, and by the end of the day, my hands were raw. Ah, but I could gaze on my creations with pride, and feel invincible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The octopus in the corner

My office at WHOI is in the corner. It's in the corner of the lab, which is in the corner of the building. When I first moved into my office, I noticed there was a whiteboard on the door with a drawing in the corner. I guess this means I'm the octopus?


I've spent a lot of time in my corner recently, just reading papers at my desk. The first part of any project is getting acquainted with the pertinent background information, which means diving into the literature. It's a lot of reading, which takes a lot of time. At least I have a comfortable reading space. 

The second thing I've been doing to prepare for my project is getting familiar with the local fauna. My experimental organisms are all drawn from local docks, so I've met with various other researchers who know the local species. It's a learning process, but thankfully, the forms are all pretty distinct. I'm learning the most common species around Woods Hole are all non-native, meaning they were transported here from elsewhere and accidentally or purposefully introduced. It doesn't matter for my experiment where the species come from, but it's interesting to know how much the dock communities have changed over the past several years. 

I look forward to getting my project off the ground. Alright, now back to my corner.

A few species living on a rope at one of the local docks

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Jump around

My office at WHOI is right on Water Street, so I have a front-row view of all the activity in the village. There's a ferry from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard that docks right across the street from my building. Every time the ferry takes off from the dock, it sounds its horn. One long blast, then three short blasts.

It sounds like the beginning of a rap song from the 90s, and my brain fills in the rest of the song. Oh boy.

On a more serious note, I legitimately love it at WHOI. I have several projects starting up that I'm very excited about. My main project, the one I proposed when I applied for my current position, concerns succession on subtidal substrata. Ok, let's break that down. Succession is the process by which organisms replace each other over time. "Subtidal" refers to any habitat permanently covered by water - that includes everything from the underside of a boat to the deep sea. For this project, I'm focusing on shallow subtidal habitats, or in other words, things that grow on docks.

An encrusting community on the underside of
a buoy in Eel Pond, just next to my lab.
How many species do you see?
So if you drop a solid object - a rock, a bottle, your boat - in the water, it's first going to get covered by barnacles. After a while, though, there will be other animals present. Soft sponges and squishy ascidians, delicate hydroids and crunchy bryozoans. There's some evidence that the barnacles help those other guys settle on top of them (essentially, the barnacles ensure their own demise), and I want to figure out why. Is it because of bacteria living on the barnacles? Is it because the barnacles change the way the water flows over them? Are the barnacles giving off a chemical signal?

My first step toward this new project is scoping out the subtidal habitats around WHOI. I've been on the prowl for publically-accessible docks where I can lay on my belly, lean my head over the side, and collect the organisms I need. I actually spent a good part of this afternoon walking around town and laying on any dock I could access. I probably looked like a crazy person, but hey, that's being a scientist, right?

I find encrusting communities fascinating. These species live next to, around, on top of, and entangled with each other. There is so much biodiversity in just one handful! I'm very excited to get my project started.