Monday, July 28, 2014

Matthew Mischke - Week 2: Safety Training and Desk Work

Hello all,

My second week out here at HMSC was great! I made some headway on the data entry during the week, went to a really interesting brown bag lunch discussion about research ethics, had lab safety training, sea safety training and went to a cool seminar lead by Luisa Massarani. And at the end of my busy week I was able to head home for the 4th of July and spend a little time with my family and see a couple of friends.
Lab safety training on Monday was mostly common sense and review but I learned a few of the new symbols for hazardous materials and had my first encounter with Safety Data Sheets (SDS). It was good to know they are around in the labs and maybe better to know they can't always be trusted in urgent situations. Quick reference sheets for potentially harmful chemicals are nice to have around, but I was glad to learn now that they're not the most reliable source of info, since they're rarely made by experts. It was also good to learn about the difference in air flow in chem hoods and bio cabinets: namely that chem hoods vent fumes out the chimney and bio cabinets vent the fumes inside the hood out into the room. I also had never thought of different thicknesses of gloves, so that was important information to get before lab work.

Tuesday's brown bag discussion was really engaging. Markus Horning, who gave the seminar on Stellar Sea Lions the first week, came back to talk about the ethics involved in using tags, especially invasive, surgically implanted ones that he used in his studies. All the interns were there and we had a good, fair debate about using life history tags vs. hot-iron branding (just what it sounds like) to track large animals, specifically sea lions. We talked about how the life history tags stress the animals more because of the captivity and surgery involved than the branding does, at least on an individual basis, and how the trade off is the sheer number of sea lions that have to branded to get equivalent results with regard to the whole population. It was good to learn about the kinds of decisions and thinking that goes into the large population studies, and the public push-back scientists sometimes deal with when working for the government as well.

Through the middle of the week I was given material to go over for sea safety (some DVD's and a book) in preparation for a journey in the near future to do some actual sampling of the flatfish I've been logging data about on the computer. We'll go out on the Elakah, a research vessel equipped with a small beam trawl with a fine mesh net and an HD mounted camera with 10cm spaced lasers for approximate measurement while reviewing behavior in the lab later. For sea safety I had to don an immersion (or survival) suit in less than a minute, which was a little challenging but not bad, and I learned about the essentials of survival in a situation where abandoning ship is necessary and plenty of safety basics.

Finally, Thursday's seminar was an interesting presentation on a museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The museum filmed visitors as they navigated a children's exhibit designed to teach them about biodiversity. A few weeks after the children visited the museum, researchers conducted a survey to see what they remembered by asking them to draw a picture about what they remembered. The study itself was interesting, but what I really liked was how much the museum meant to the community, its located in an area of Rio made mostly of favelas (slums), and it seemed that they were really accomplishing their goal of getting under privileged kids interested in science. My parents are both teachers and my mother taught kids from bad neighborhoods in Medelline, Colombia so its an especially important idea to me.  

It was a busy week but lots of fun and it was nice to finish it by going home and spending time with my friends and family. I'll check in again next week, hope you have a good one.

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