How Microscopic Ocean Life May Help Make It Rain
"Clouds can carry millions of pounds of water, but that doesn’t mean rain and snow just happen. Hundreds of thousands of water vapor molecules need to freeze together as ice before they are heavy enough to fall to the ground. But, the water molecules need a bit of dust or other microscopic matter to latch onto in order to get started, and some of the best bits for forming ice are pieces of once-living cells. Scientists now believe a lot of the organic matter in clouds is released into the air by breaking waves in the ocean.”
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) annual conference, once dominated by discussions of lions, tigers and bears (or so I’ll pretend), has become a convergence point for microbial ecologists.
The first part about bacterial dormancy is about my research! Check it out!
When I tell people that I wish I had been kicked out of grad school, that someone had straight up told me that I would never do this and given me the boot 6 years ago, they usually deny it vigorously. They tell me I’m smart, that I’m clearly passionate, that I’ve just had bad experiences and that really it’s not me. I don’t think they quite understand what I mean.
It’s not that I’m not smart (I’m average). It’s not that I’m not passionate (more on that below). It’s not that I had bad experiences (academia is rough on everyone, I think I was about average).
I am not cut out to be a scientist. I’m cut out to be a lot of things. A teacher, a communicator, a writer. But a grant writing, publishing, committee serving scientist? I don’t think so.
I love science. It’s almost scary how much I love it. I love pipetting, and working with animals, and getting beautiful numbers to play around with. I love going to scientific conferences and completely geeking out with people over how great their research is. I have spoken of my research subject with tears of passion in my eyes. I will debate the ethics of my field until I am blue in the face and everyone else is ready to fall over. I love seeing other people’s new work and knowing that it’s going to change the world. I love the equipment, making reagents, I love the quiet of the behavioral facilities. I would have been a great tech.
Maintaining mental health as a researcher-in-training can be a contradiction in terms. Many doctoral students are free to pursue a scientific field of their choice and, at least in theory, get an opportunity to become a leading researcher in that field. But the need to publish often, conduct research independently, constantly apply for funding and meet the needs of supervisors can create substantial emotional and mental strain, anxiety and pressure. These hurdles can adversely affect a PhD student’s emotional well-being, especially if they are not expecting them — or do not know how to surmount them.
‘The Afternoon I Decided to Leave Academe’–and What Happened Next – The Ph.D. Placement Project - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education
I will never forget the afternoon I decided to leave academe. I had just learned that I was second in line for a visiting assistant professorship, with a three-year contract and a 3-3 teaching load. We were well into the summer, and this was my last hope of a job for the following year. The pay was less than $40,000 a year; the hiring committee admitted to me that the salary was probably not enough to cover living expenses in the area.
That afternoon I hit the brick wall. I had spent three years on the academic job market and felt further away than ever from my goal. Was I to work yet another year as an adjunct, scraping by, with no promise that the next year would be any better than the previous three?
E. coli, watercolor on cheap dollar store construction paper.
Attempted art currently hanging in my office. People tend to have this misconception that all scientists do is science (yes, science is now a verb because English - linguistics minor ftw). So, here’s a challenge for all of my scientist/scientist-in-training followers out there: post something you do that isn’t science! An interest, a hobby, etc. (If you aren’t technically in the STEM fields, feel free to do it anyways!)
Me riding my horse Jazz. :)
The fact is, like it or not, you still live a world where gender matters. Where gender controls not just the entire course of your life – but the lives of women all over the world. Every second, a child will be born female in a country where she will persecuted for this random biological occurrence for the rest of her life. So before you hold up your anti-Feminist placard proudly and smile at your own sense of empowerment, think not what Feminism can do for you, but what it can do for that one girl. She needs someone to stand up for her. That someone could be you.
Just because your life is “unaffected” by your gender, that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is so fortunate.
It was previously assumed that microbial oil degradation only occurred at the interface of water and oil, but new research has found that microorganisms can also break down oil from the inside.
The study, carried out by an international team of researchers led by the Helmholtz Zentrum München research group in Germany, looked at the communities of microorganisms living inside water droplets on top of Pitch Lake, the world’s largest natural asphalt lake in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.
Pitch Lake is a natural source of oil, which rises to the surface to form a hard crust, known as bitumen (the black stuff we use on our roads). While it might not sound like a very life-friendly habitat, the scientists found complex communities of active microbes in tiny samples of water about 1/50th the size of a regular drop of water - this is what they call a droplet.
”We saw a huge diversity of bacteria and archaea,” said Dirk Schulze-Makuch from Washington State University’s School of the Environment in a press release. “That’s why we speak of an ‘ecosystem,’ because we have so much diversity in the water droplets.”
The research, which has been published in Science, also found that microbes were actively breaking down the oil in the asphalt lake. This means that a similar phenomenon could one day be used to clean up oil spills or pollution in groundwater, which is something the scientists are now looking into in a follow-up project.
The study could also help oil companies avoid biodegradation in their reservoirs, and, perhaps most interestingly, it may help scientists find extraterrestrial life.
"For me, the cool thing is I got into it from an astrobiology viewpoint, as an analog to Saturn’s moon, Titan, where we have hydrocarbon lakes on the surface," said Schulze-Makuch.
He suggests that finding life in an environment as hostile as the 100-acre Pitch Lake increases the likelihood of life on Titan, as well as helping scientists understand how life can exist in such a harsh environment.
"We discovered that there are additional habitats where we have not looked at where life can occur and thrive," said Schulze-Makuch.