Jewel in New Jersey

Jewel is a sophomore majoring in chemistry and environmental science in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and is a member of the University Honors Program. Jewel was awarded a grant through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program to conduct research on rivers in the Kittatinny Mountains of northwest New Jersey during summer 2013.

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Where all life is connected

Jewel This past week was incredibly busy. On Monday afternoon, the Ecology & Environmental Chemistry team split into three groups so that samples from all of the river sites could be taken in the same day. We used a YSI probe to take measurements such as pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and temperature from the river water at each site. These recordings can clue us into the health of the ecosystem at that spot.

We also collect water in bottles to take to the laboratory. To do this, we have to stand in the river and face the opening upstream, wash the bottle out with river water three times, and then fill it and cap it. Pretty simple, but we had quite a few sites with fifteen twenty-minute drives separating them. The time adds up, and we weren’t back at the NJ School of Conservation until the late evening.

For one day in the field, we have three days in the lab at Montclair State University. We have to make chemical solutions to react with the river water samples and run them all through a machine that gives us measurements of ammonia, nitrate, orthophosphate, total nitrogen, and total phosphorus. These are separate tests that need different solutions and run at separate times. Another time-intensive test is for total and suspended solids in the water. Lots of weighing, pouring, waiting, and more weighing. Luckily, I have awesome teammates that make even the most tedious tasks fun.

An exceptionally great aspect of the REU is that it’s a research experience, not a research job. Besides the time field and lab, part of our “working hours” are trips to really cool places relevant to New Jersey’s environmental history. We visited Sterling Hill Mining Museum (they had many fluorescent rocks) and Sandy Hook Sea Grant Consortium (which turned into an afternoon at the beach). This coming Friday we’re going rafting down the Delaware River. These trips are fun and I have learned so much. As an environmental student, I hear about mining all the time, but I had never had a tour of one before or thought about how much mining has changed over the years. At the Sandy Hook beach, it was really interesting to see how people balance conservation and recreation in the same area. Our world can be quite complex and I’m grateful for the chance to learn and figure it all out for myself. I’m seeing that the environment is a platform where all life is connected. I love working on the science side of it!

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