Research!   Leave a comment

Okay, as promised, I will finally fill you in on what I am doing for my research project – aka the real reason I’m living on a chocolate plantation for two months (as much as I made it sound like it in my last post, I’m not just here on a dream vacation…). I am working on a project to test the efficacy of different organic herbicides here at Finmac. It has been somewhat of a challenge for me; I have some background with plant biology – thanks to my REU experience on Konza Prairie last semester – but I have yet to take a class like plant physiology or field ecology that focuses specifically on plant functions or methods for studying different types of plant communities. Add on the fact that there is still very little information available – especially published studies – on organic herbicides, and you’ll see some of the problems I have encountered. But, I like challenging myself because I think that way I will learn more through the process. At times, things seem a little overwhelming, but I’ve made it through alright so far and I think overall things are going well. The inevitable part of research is that things don’t always go according to your plan.

There are some conditions and limitations that you may not be able to control, and being able to accept those or deal with them accordingly is becoming a valuable skill. For example, I’ve already been interrupted with the semi-unpredictable weather here (unpredictable on day-to-day basis, but I knew today when I started that there was a good chance for rain within a few hours. And guess what… it rained, so I’ll start over again tomorrow (weather permitting)).

It has also been a challenge to keep up with the pace at which we are trying to carry out these projects: two-month research projects for undergraduates are becoming more and more common (thanks to things like REU programs and other summer research jobs), but this study abroad program through ACM allows you to do more of the process. Many times with the summer research experiences, you jump into a project already in process, or already somewhat designed; my experience here I started from the very beginning: writing a proposal for a project that has never been done (I’m using a some brand-new or only very recently released products) and designing an experiment based only on the little information I could find. But like I said: it is a process that is normally carried out over the course of a few months or more (like a masters thesis), which we squeezed in in just four weeks. For that reason, I’m still adjusting my ideas and my methods as I go – finding out what works and what doesn’t, sometimes the hard way. So it has been an interesting dichotomy between the pace of life here and the pace of our research projects – including a few clashes between the two (like having to wait for a product to arrive to the farm before I could start applying, and then having to rush to apply during the day without rain, etc).

So I guess that is a general overview of what the research side of this program is like – for those of you considering applying – but its not a very good one, so feel free to e-mail me if you have other questions. It’s also weird because I actually am not supposed to discuss a lot of the details about my project, because I am using such new products, some are currently in the process of being patented or standardized, but basically I am testing the products at different concentrations and under a few different conditions (types of weeds, levels of shade, etc) to find optimal application concentrations and to see what weed species they kill or not. After these first few days of application are finished, my work will consist mostly of observation of my plots: overall visual observations, as well as some more specific quantification of plant mortality and biomass reduction over time.

After today, (the processing machinery is functioning once again thanks to the arrival of the necessary equipment, and a group of chocolate producers and chocolatiers from all over the world toured the farm and processing plant), I’m also thinking about starting a chocolate-quality control experiment, in which I would test the chocolate being made through all stages to assure the highest quality. I think it would have to be done at minimum on a weekly basis, don’t you…?

Instead of this:  ,

I could be working with this instead:

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Posted March 11, 2011 by rwieme in Uncategorized

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