Saturday, October 8, 2016

Science is Cool

“Spotted!yells my partner as he looks up at the ceiling in the academic center, broom in hand. I sprint over from the other side of the building and confirm that there is, in fact, a common house gecko (scientifically known as Hemidactylus frenatus) resting on the beam that meets the ceiling. My heart is pounding from running from building to building trying to spot these little lizards. Although this would be the thirtieth gecko we caught tonight, it is still exciting to locate them all the same. I set myself in the ready position – eyes on the gecko, net in one hand, knees slightly bent, and ready to pounce. In one swift movement (…or several clumsy attempts), my partner pushes the gecko off the ceiling and onto the floor. I immediately dive onto hands and knees to capture it. Once in-between my fingers, I bring it to the critter cage feet away. “Spotted!” I hear from a different part of the building, and the process repeats again and again for the next few hours. I really wish I had videotaped these gecko catching nights to remember the hilarity of it all, but retelling the stories behind the bruised knees will have to suffice for now.
My project focused on looking at the second-to-fourth digit ratios in the common house gecko (analogous to index-to-ring finger ratios in humans). This is particularly fascinating because a lot of studies have shown relationships between this ratio and other characteristics (such as physical performance and health) in humans and mice, but there is very scant research regarding lizards and absolutely nothing on Hemidactylus frenatus. In our study, we looked at sexual differences in the ratios as well as tested to see if there were any relationships between the ratio and any physical characteristics (such as weight, length, tail-to-body ratio, and testes weight-to-weight ratio) or physical performance (distance run and how fast they ran). Going through the effort to capture the lizards, run tests on them, and complete a scientific paper was an entirely new experience, and I learned a lot. Although my group didn’t get the results we expected, it proves there is a lot more research to be done.
While completing my project, I remembered just how cool the whole scientific process could be. While attending the stereotypical introductory general chemistry/organic chemistry/physics/etc. labs, it’s hard to be interested in what is occurring during them. First of all, rumors spread about how “miserable” they can be. One mention of “organic chemistry lab” and most (if not all) university students quiver in fear. This preconceived notion gives science a bad name and makes learning less fun for students who don’t come prepared with an open mind.  Some of the labs are interesting, but they quickly become bogged down with pre-lab and post-lab quizzes, write-ups, and the dispassionateness of it all. Every semester has similar lab set-ups with the same lab criteria. The outcome of every experiment assigned is already known; most students just want to match their results with the expected results and get out of lab as quickly as possible. These labs are necessary “evils” as they equip students with the tools necessary to carry out projects like the ones we completed here at La Selva Biological Station, but they are not what science embodies.
Science is about learning information that interests you and delving further. It’s about questioning why or how things happen, and not accepting everything at face value. I’m thankful for the skills I’ve garnered from all of my scientific courses, but I’m especially appreciative of the independent project I was allowed to pursue here.
Kiersten Bell
Duke University

1 comment:

  1. Great write up, Kiersten. The scientific method and particularly the experiential type of research done at La Selva are ways to think about the world that surrounds us. They are ways to become a critical thinking, someone that questions information given as fact and looks for answers to questions, not believing "stuff" that is not supported by data and evidence. If that was all that you got from your La Selva experience, you came out a richer person. And we all know you got much more than that.
    Cheers and thanks for sharing your experiences.