The last bioassay, or …… how to keep yourself happy at some ungodly hours…..

Jun 27, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Brandy Robinson, NOC, Sunday, 24 June 2012

Today marks the last bioassay setup day. At 2am every few days a dedicated team of scientists, and those of us also selected to wake up at ungodly hours of the morning, rise from our bunks in the artificial darkness created by our blackout shades. We shamble down the halls and convene in what is apply termed the CTD room to see whether the CTD is on its way out of the water (meaning we should get in the container to start loading niskin bottles onto the racks), or if the CTD is on its way down into the water (meaning that we have time for some blessed tea). Either way we soon assemble into our roles, move the niskin bottles from the CTD into the clean container and begin sampling the water into bottles.

 The bioassay requires three CTDs to be sent down to 15m to capture water samples and an additional one to collect a full water profile, and there is also a set of deep samples collected once during the bioassay. This water is used in various experiments running on board, there are initial bottles collected by most of the labs, zooplankton bottles that have zooplankton added to them and bioassay bottles (these make up the majority of bottles to be filled) which are placed with the zooplankton bottles into the bioassay container to be incubated under controlled conditions.

Filtration lab - the rather less sociable lab where Brandy works for long hours, filtering water for her protein-monitoring research. Credit: Brandy Robinson

This may seem like a tedious job and waking up in the early hours of the morning (usually after only a few hours of sleep) you might think that we would be discouraged at the least by our task, but now at the end of the bioassay days I can officially say at no point was it not fun. This is due entirely to the company, now it could be the time of day or the lack of sleep but we spend much of our time laughing and exchanging witty repartee in the container, this helps to pass the time and is almost unavoidable when you put Mark Moore, Sophie Richier, Eric Achterberg and Alex Poulton together.

 Then there are those of us who I have termed the oompa loompas of the bioassay factory; Laura, Chris and I, our sole purpose is to help fill and move bottles. We have our own ways of keeping everybody awake and happy, this usually involves group singing (today was Disney themed). If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this trip it’s that you have to make the most of everything; whether that’s making do with what materials you have, using every minute of time you’re given, or remembering to enjoy the experience even when you’re loaded down with work.

Sampling party - Laura, Brandy, Sophie and Chris wearing fetching red bonnets in the clean lab, with an array of niskin bottles (the grey cylinders) from the CTD to fill bioassay bottles from. Credit: Brandy Robinson

Sampling party - Laura, Brandy, Sophie and Chris wearing fetching red bonnets in the clean lab, with an array of niskin bottles (the grey cylinders) from the CTD to fill bioassay bottles from. Credit: Brandy Robinson

Now that the bioassays are over for me, I will be focusing primarily on my research. My work on the ship involves filtering water from the underway (water straight from the surface of the ocean) every two hours over a 12 hour period. I filter for heme, proteins essential in the photosynthesis process in phytoplankton and for chlorophyll fluorescence. These samples will show how the heme content of phytoplankton change over a diurnal cycle and will combine with controlled experiments I’m running in Southampton to see if phytoplankton, specifically the coccolithophore species Emiliania huxleyi, essentially recycle their hemoproteins to boost production in iron deficient waters.

It has been an amazing few weeks collecting data from the far reaches of the earth and living on a ship consisting mostly of scientists, small talk on board doesn’t consist of the weather or shopping but usually begins with “how are your experiments running, did you fix your NO2 problem?” it’s an unusual topic of conversation if you’re new to the field, as I am, but I really enjoy learning about the work everyone else is conducting on the ship, after all sharing knowledge is what science is all about.

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