Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Independent Projects by Anya Conlon

            We spent the final two weeks of this semester at La Selva Biological Station working tirelessly on our independent research projects. The twelve of us divided into four groups to conduct our research. I formed a group with three of my peers and, together, we worked with three local plants, testing their efficacy as soap substitutes and identifying what bacteria they remove from people’s hands. It was a very busy week, filled with unexpected obstacles, spur of the moment improvisation, and an incredible amount of trial and error. 
            We began the week pouring agar plates and perfecting our hand washing procedure. We also conducted several lab trials to test bacterial growth, tests which led to us anxiously rush to the lab 24 hours later in hopes that we would see colonies growing on our plates. One of the most enjoyable parts of the process was adventuring up into the mountains with the head taxonomist and director of scientific operations at La Selva, Orlando Vargas Ramírez, in order to collect one of our plant specimens that was especially difficult to locate. As we drove along the bumpy dirt roads at 25 miles per hour, Orlando was able to identify the exact species we were searching for on the roadside, a plant so similar to others in its genus that our untrained eyes could only identify it after careful (and very still!) examination and the use of a magnifying glass. As research often goes, the results we gathered by the end of the week weren’t exactly what we expected. But, in the end, we were all happy with what we had accomplished.

            On the final Thursday of the semester, we had our poster presentations. Our independent project presentations were something I had been anticipating since week one, both with excitement and anxiety. They represented the culmination of all of our many hours of hard work. My group was nervous about the presentation and about having to eloquently explain our research and findings to our visitors for a two full hours – in Spanish! However, after stumbling through the basic explanation two or three times it got easier and easier, and it was wonderful to get the opportunity to share the results of our work with the community and the people at the research station. It was also nice to see what the other groups had found. And, I must say, walking away from it all, I was very impressed at what we were all able to accomplish.

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