USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

November 13, 2017

Food for Thought

Filed under: Wrigley Institute — Jessica Dutton @ 10:11 am

By: Natalie Hayashibara

One of the most ubiquitous sentiments that students share regarding the college experience is that the friends they meet and the organizations they join make the pain of midterms, group projects, and 15-page research papers—worth it.

This has been true for my experience as well, but a majority of the joy I’ve received from studying at USC can be attributed to working with the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. I first began working with Wrigley last year, when I took part in a 2-unit directed research course regarding food waste. However, the focus of this blog post will be my current internship, the “Food for Thought” (FFT) program.

FFT promotes environmental and sustainability education in underfunded and underrepresented South Los Angeles K-12 classrooms. We bring aquaponics systems—a sustainable form of agricultural that utilizes naturally occurring nutrient cycling between fish, microbes, and plants to grow food—into classrooms to weave project-based environmental, food, and STEM learning into the Next Generation Science Standards and California Common Core curriculum.

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Example of an aquaponics system

This description may seem a bit pedantic, but trust me, it is so much fun. As an intern, you dig in the dirt to grow plants, learn about, build, and maintain aquaponics systems, teach sustainability and science to enthusiastic students and teachers, and work within a community of the some of the most inspiring, motivated, and kind individuals on this campus. The hands-on projects we facilitate allow students (and adults) to visualize and understand knowledge in a tangible way, and gets students excited to learn about the importance of healthy food, food access, the environment, and science.

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Aquaponics interns, Fall 2017

The highlight of our semester came when we applied and were accepted to showcase our work at LA Food Day, which was held to recognize “the City Council’s Good Food Champions & food policy wins of 2017. Food Day is a national event designed to raise awareness of food system issues, such as health, hunger, worker justice, animal welfare & the environment” and it showcased “our city’s most forward-thinking, visionary ideas on the #FutureOfFood” (LAFPC, 2017).

At the end of a day full of tabling and presenting FFT to event goers, we were honored with the award of being one of the top 3 projects!! There were so many progressive and wonderful ideas, it was like a dream to stand up there with city council members and accept the award; I almost couldn’t believe it. However, FFT is such a unique and amazing program, with the ability to teach topics that are crucial for preparing future generations to be healthy, sustainable, and knowledgeable.

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Being recognized at LA City Hall during ‘Food Day LA’!

Immense experiences like Food Day are truly incredible and exciting, but personally, the most treasured facets of this internship are seeing the kids light-up with curiosity and excitement when they are about to do water testing, watching the seeds you planted—sprout, and working/laughing/eating snacks in the office with people I could now call my extended family.

I just talked a lot about various different things in this post, but if you like science, food, friends, and adventure, it is probably better if you just come and experience it for yourself!

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September 12, 2017

After the Field Season

Filed under: Graduate,Wrigley Institute — Jessica Dutton @ 12:51 pm

By: Kenny Bolster

At this point, my summer research as a Wrigley Fellow has basically wrapped up. I’ve been off the island for the past couple of weeks because I was presenting my research at the Goldschmidt conference, an international meeting of geochemists that was held in Paris this year. I told them about a new method for measuring a particular chemical form of iron, and then talked about how I’d used that method in Big Fisherman’s Cove at Catalina.

Basically, I’ve been able to show that when you have direct sunlight hitting dust particles in the water, it can cause individual atoms of iron to break free and float off as a dissolved compound, which could then be assimilated by algae or other marine organisms. This process probably matters a lot farther offshore, where organisms are starved for iron and the only source of iron is dust particles that would rapidly sink otherwise.

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Quartz flasks of seawater exposed to direct sunlight let me test hypotheses about how mineral particles break down.

Now that the classes have started again, I can’t spend as much time on Catalina as I would like. I’m still going out to do some work, including experiments like the one above, where I’m exposing seawater treated in different ways to sunlight and trying to figure out exactly how particles break down. I’ll also be out there for some work with Yubin Raut, another Wrigley Fellow who’s trying to study how rotting macroalgae affects the chemistry of the water around them.

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Me, in front of an ESI seaFAST automated preconcentration system. The beard cover is to reduce the chances of getting hair in a sample.

Instead, most of what I’m doing these days is lab work. Over the past summer, I’ve collected a whole bunch of samples of seawater, as well as particles, and now I need to measure the iron concentrations of them. So when I’m not on the island, and not in a class, I’m running those samples through the device in the picture above, which will concentrate the iron in a sample.

The vials that come out of the seaFAST then get put into an Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (below). The ICP-MS works by putting the sample into a plasma torch (something non-scientists would call a lightsaber) and then measuring the individual atoms as they go flying off. It’s a very powerful instrument, but like most high-end scientific equipment, it’s finicky enough that we frequently have to open it up and make repairs. That, plus a little bit more lab work on the island, is going to be plenty to keep me busy this fall.

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The ICP-MS is sort of my research group’s workhorse. It’s large enough and sensitive enough that I can’t really bring it to Catalina with me.

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