Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Pilot

Friends, every scientific study requires funding. And very often, obtaining funding requires a proof of concept. Funding agencies want to know that the study they're investing in will produce good results, so they need to see a demonstration that your plan will work. It's like the old adage "You have to have money to make money" - in science, you have to have data to get funding to get more data. 

Slipper limpets on panels. I've marked one example of
each species. Can you tell the rest apart?
So we run pilot studies. If you've never heard the term, "pilot study" refers to a small, easy, preliminary study that a scientist undertakes in order to collect preliminary data, prove that their idea will work, and leverage those positive results into something bigger. You try things out in a small way before going for the big win. If you run a pilot study, things usually work out better for the real study.

One of my limpets with its egg mass, photographed through
the clear panel it was living on.
Today, I started a pilot study right off the dock in Woods Hole. I'm writing a proposal with collaborators at WHOI to study slipper limpets (Crepidula fornicata and C. plana), and I wanted to test out one of our methods before writing in the proposal that we were going to use it. The method is simple: pull a limpet off of its natural substratum (these guys usually live on shells or rocks), place it on a clear plastic panel, let it get comfortable there, and then come back to record when it does or does not have an egg mass. Sounds easy enough - except that there were multiple ways the plan could go wrong. What if I couldn't get the limpets off their original shells? Mollusks like limpets and snails have very strong, muscular feet and are experts at adhering to substrata. What if the limpets didn't take to the panels I put them on? What if the plastic was too thick for me to see the egg masses from the underside? 

Thankfully, none of my concerns were realized. I was able to pop the limpets off of the shell they were living on with just the strength of my fingers. I let them sit on the panels for about an hour, and all but one successfully adhered. And I was able to see the egg masses on a few individuals through the underside of the panel! 

The pilot study was a success! Now to write the proposal...

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