Friday, September 8, 2017

OSCAR Student Sharon Dorsey Conducts Research on Forty Mesocosms

I took a visit to the Wetland Mesocosm Lab on campus during a class field trip with Dr. Changwoo Ahn. Throughout taking his course, Dr. Ahn expressed his desire to take me on as a research mentee and explained the work that he planned to do with his forty mesocosms. The specific research questions of the study include: (1) Does enhanced nitrogen impact plant growth and biomass production in the summer of 2017? (2) Will the relationship between plant growth (e.g. plant cover percentage) among the four species change as they are affected by treated wastewater application compared to the rainwater of low or almost no nitrogen input? I am eager to conduct further investigation on this question as it can address multiple water-related environmental issues. By using wastewater effluent as a source of nutrients for plants this could decrease the amount of potable water used in plant irrigation in the face of global water scarcity.

Most of the work for this project consists of measuring out and combining the required nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium components to create the synthetic “wastewater”. This is applied to ½ of the tubs once a month. In addition, I take bi-weekly measurements of the plants’ morphological changes through measuring plant height, diameter, and circumference as well as stem count for some species. This is very time-consuming work and takes roughly twelve hours spread out over three days.

One thing I have discovered throughout the summer is how to work independently and not rely on my mentor for too much assistance. I am fortunate to have prior studies to base my experimental procedures on and have only gone to my mentor to seek guidance on how to interpret the procedures of previous years. This has allowed me to gain maturity and self-confidence in my scientific research experience.