Immediately after beginning my Marine Education Fellowship with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, I met Dodie Sanders, a senior educator at the UGA Aquarium. Sanders is researching microplastics and their impact on the environment and creating educational programming based on her research that’s designed for students and adults visiting the aquarium. I was amazed by Sanders’ ability to incorporate research findings into educational programs, so I decided to try something similar.
I contacted Elizabeth Harvey, a researcher at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography who specializes in plankton ecology. I began working in her lab with her student Sean Anderson, and we started conducting research using a Flow Cam, which is a machine that processes samples of marine microbes (microscopic organisms) by taking pictures and recording data on each individual microbe. I ran samples, sorted through the images, identified microbes and recorded measurements. Based on the data, I created graphs to reflect the change in microbe biomass over time.
Back at the UGA Aquarium, I implemented what I learned in Harvey’s lab in my teaching. During plankton labs, I include videos of the Flow Cam processing a sample so students can see how fast it works. I also developed an educational activity that involves creating a marine microbe library of images. Students sort samples of microbes and collect images at different angles in order to create a thorough library, making it easier to identify microbes in future samples.
A second activity I developed is a Flow Cam data collection game. Students watch a short video of the Flow Cam and quickly identify and count specific microbes. After the video is played, students will discuss how many of each microbe they found. The purpose of this game is to help students identify different kinds of microbes, understand how the Flow Cam works and interpret the importance of technology in scientific research.
I look forward to teaching sharing this activity with more students during the Women in Marine Science camp this summer. This experience has broadened my horizons and helped guide me in determining the type of career I want to pursue at the end of my fellowship.