This summer I studied a species of zooplankton called Calanus pacificus, a marine copepod. This little critter grows to about 2 mm in length and can swim very quickly in short bursts. It stays at depth during the day and swims up at night to feed on phytoplankton. We wanted to know what would happen when it encountered low oxygen water while swimming; would it respond? Perhaps by swimming up and away from the dangerous water?
We set up clear fiberglass tanks with simulated low-oxygen layers and put C. pac in them to see what they would do. Most of the copepods didn’t react to the low-oxygen water and therefore succumbed to it (hypoxic water kills many organisms very quickly).
My project happened to involve a lot of experimental setup (some carpentry and a little electrical work) and brainstorming, but the Keister lab is dynamic. My project took the form that it did because that was where the experiment was currently at, but if I had been taken on board at a different time the work might have been very different. As it was, I was able to gain experience in a myriad of research tasks; picking copepods under a microscope, building and painting wooden platforms for buckets and tanks, setting up IR capable cameras to record copepod movements, processing footage with specially designed software in Linux, and processing data in MatLab. I even got to participate in a plankton tow out on the sound.
Next year, the project may be in a very different state. Copepod swimming data may be readily available from already completed experiments, meaning most of the work to be done would be at a computer in MatLab or Excel. On top of that, there are multiple ongoing research projects in the Keister lab; last year’s (2018) intern worked mostly with formalin preserved pteropods, sorting and counting using a dissecting microscope. I believe that this lab has a niche for almost anyone provided they are open to trying new things and willing to work hard, but that niche may be hard to find if an intern fails to communicate effectively with their mentor/principal investigator.
I personally had an amazing time working in this lab and I expect future interns will as well.