by Cass Nieman (Duke CEM student)
As part of our student scientists program, we are trying to provide a fun “Science Saturday” once a month for high school students interested in STEM. These activities can range from shadowing a graduate student from DUML’s research, to flying drones and mapping, or even working on an oyster aquaculture farm. We recently went over to the Rachel Carson Reserve and learned about parasite ecology in salt marshes from PhD student, Joe Morton.
Joe took us trudging through the mud and spartina — let’s just say the students weren’t afraid to get their hands and feet dirty. He taught us about the characteristics many of the intertidal plants and animals we found must possess in order to live in desiccation at low tide and in inundation at high tide. We looked at crabs, and wild horses, and clams, oh my! Joe showed us how small organisms can have a big impact as we watched the differences in spartina heights where snails had and hadn’t grazed. He also taught us about the role these snails can play as an intermediate host in a parasite’s life cycle.
It’s great to see these high schoolers getting firsthand experience doing some really cool work in the field and enjoying learning (even on a weekend)! Everyone was such a great sport about getting unexpectedly dirty, including the student whose slides got stuck in the mud and the student whose white converse sneakers had turned brown by the time we were finished. I wish I had been exposed to environments and research like this when I was their age, but helping others to do so now is the next best thing.