Hi everyone! My name is Carson and I’m a junior biology major here at Haverford. I’m going to be blogging about my experience in superlab, an upper-level lab course, this semester. If you’ve been following the superlab blog over the past year you may already know a little bit about the class, but if not, I’ll give you a basic introduction to what superlab is all about. Superlab is a yearlong, 7.5 hour/week lab course designed for biology majors to prepare us for our senior thesis research, and, if we so desire, eventual research careers. Every Monday we meet to discuss the theory behind what we’re doing in lab, go over lab techniques or go over papers in journal clubs. During the rest of the week we have six hours of lab time, where we work on various projects. Unlike traditional labs, which introduce procedures and are designed with specific results in mind, superlab is more of an independent learning experience. The goal is to get us to frame a hypothesis and to design experiments, based on procedures we learned in previous years, to test that hypothesis. It’s designed to help us engage with the project and really get us to think about it as if we were working in a research lab, especially since there’s not one specific result we’re trying to achieve. Throughout the year we learn how to present our research in various formats, including writing lab reports and making posters.
The year is divided into four quarters, and each quarter we work on a different project with a different pair of professors. This quarter we’re working with Professors Iruka Okeke and Jon Wilson, examining the phyllosphere (the microbial community) that lives on plant leaves around campus. Everyone in my section of the class has a partner, and then pairs of students were divided into three different groups of approximately six students. Within our groups, on the first day of class, we had to come up with a hypothesis that we’ll spend the rest of the quarter trying to answer. My group asked the question: is microorganism diversity and population dependent upon plant species or local environment? We predict that location, rather than plant species, will determine the phyllosphere, but we’ll have to wait another six weeks to find out! We started out by choosing a location to gather plant leaves. There are seven of us in our group (one group of three) so we decided that we could collect four different plant samples. We needed to gather plants from the same area to assess the effects of local environment, so we looked for an area with a lot of plant diversity. After a good half hour of searching, we found an amazing spot between Comfort and the duck pond. In a five square foot area we found bamboo (a monocot) next to a pine tree (a conifer) next to some kind of small bush (a dicot). Unfortunately, there were no ferns or ginkgos in the area, which would have represented all five major groups of vascular plants, but we figured 3/5 was still pretty good. Using sterile aseptic technique, we collected two samples of bamboo, a sample of the conifer and a sample of the dicot. My partner and I will analyze the bacteria on the first sample of bamboo, while the other groups will look at the other plants, and at the end of the quarter we’ll compare results. I realize this post is getting long, but before I stop for the day I want to give you a basic idea of where we’re going this quarter: last week we extracted bacteria from our leaves and set up 7-day cultures of various dilutions to grow our samples. Once we successfully grow our bacteria, we want to isolate and grow individual strains, so that we can eventually identify the species. Tomorrow we get to see how our bacteria are growing, so I’ll let you know how that goes!