A Deep Dive
Ohio Wesleyan Students Study Road Salt’s Impact on Freshwater Zooplankton
Edwards and Stark completed 10 weeks of independent research through Ohio Wesleyan’s Summer Science Research Program (SSRP). They were mentored on their project, “Salinization Effects on Freshwater Zooplankton Communities,” by Amy Downing, Ph.D., professor of Biological Sciences. Downing has been part of several international collaborations exploring issues including the effects of biodiversity loss on ecosystems and the response of freshwater communities to road-salt runoff.
What We’re Researching
Edwards: “We are researching how increasing amounts of salt in freshwater ecosystems are impacting freshwater zooplankton. This is relevant because as we salt our roads in the winter; more and more salt is running off into freshwater systems.”
Stark: “We are looking at plankton communities from three ponds with different historical chloride (salt) levels to see if these species are adapting or evolving a tolerance to increasing salt. This is important because many human activities are increasing the salt levels of freshwater habitats, and zooplankton are an integral part of the food web and those ecosystems as a whole. If we find that they have the ability, or potential, to adapt we might be able to preserve these species.”
Why This Experience?
Edwards: “The ability to get hands-on research experience as an undergraduate and to build connections with esteemed biological professors. Additionally, it was one of the only experiences that was paid, which is always nice.”
Stark: “In terms of a career after my time at OWU, I am not really sure where I want to go. This experience is giving me a taste of many different aspects of science: chemistry, biology, coding and data analysis, lab and field research, scientific communication, and so much more. By exploring these topics early in my undergraduate experience, I can better narrow down my options as well as find what I am passionate about. This is all while being on a familiar campus with friends and professors I know; the perfect balance between familiarity and pushing my comfort zone.”
Edwards: “While we were collecting plankton at the Mount Carmel retention pond, our net came untied and sank to the bottom. To retrieve it, our mentor, Dr. Amy Downing, swam out to the center of the pond and dove to the bottom in full clothes and tennis shoes. I think this is the epitome of the liberal arts experience.”
Stark: “The camaraderie in the scientific community. The outside perspective of academia and research is a daunting, cutthroat process of mistakes and criticisms, but I have found that is not the case. This is my first glimpse into research, and I have found nothing but encouragement and enthusiasm from the professors and students alike. The cohort went on many outings and got together outside of lab time and every Wednesday would have lunch and listen to other groups’ projects. It is nice to be around those with the same passion for science as me.”
Edwards: “I plan to go to grad school in the future and pursue research of my own. This experience had a good blend of fieldwork and lab work. So, the diverse experience this summer has helped me to discover what aspects of research I personally enjoy and will help me to determine the type of research I will pursue in the future.”
Stark: “You learn something new every day! I’m lucky to have gotten accepted into an experience that connected my already known passion, chemistry, to something that I wanted to explore further, biology. My adviser has shown every trick she has learned on a niche topic, and it has opened so many questions of what else is there. I have learned that you don’t have to settle on one topic as interdisciplinary subjects are prevalent in the scientific community.”
Edwards: “Dr. Amy Downing. In addition to good research and lab practices, we have talked about her experience in applying to graduate school and choosing a research path. This has helped give me ideas of how I want to proceed after graduating from OWU.”
Stark: “The one and only Dr. Amy Downing! I am relatively new to the Biology Department (which is kind of a running joke in our lab) so I had so much to learn, from jargon to new lab techniques. My favorite experience with her, though, has been getting out of the lab and into the field. I definitely want to do more fieldwork in my future.”
Why Ohio Wesleyan?
Edwards: “I liked the small campus atmosphere, and I liked that I would have the opportunity to get to know my professors. I didn’t want to be just a number at a larger university.”
Stark: “As the long list of possible colleges narrowed down, OWU always stayed within the realm of non-negotiables of things I wanted from the undergraduate experience. The most prevalent characteristic was the community. I had phone calls with teams and organizations I was planning on being a part of, and met with members on my campus visits. I never felt unwelcome, and everyone was enthusiastic and passionate; they made it possible to see myself on campus.”
Plans After Graduation
Edwards: “OWU has helped prepare me through the services provided at the Career Connection office and through programs like SSRP.”
Stark: “Real answer: I have no clue. Maybe grad school, maybe industry, maybe getting a teaching certificate, or coaching for a while before making my next move. However, I don’t feel uneasy about the uncertainty, I feel excited! There are so many possibilities, and chemistry is a very versatile subject. I know I will land on my feet and be able to do something I love.”