As I sit on my bed in my New Jersey home, procrastinating on my last bit of packing for this year's Alberta trip, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on my past Canadian summer adventures. As a recent Villanova graduate (very recent - I just graduated yesterday!), I hadn't anticipated making a return to Alberta this summer. But as luck would have it, I don't have to start my graduate program until September, and I happily took the opportunity to spend my fourth summer in the beautiful boreal zone.
The first time I came up to Alberta, I had no idea what I was in for; I barely knew what a peatland was. My experience learning about these remarkable ecosystems, working in them, and ultimately being able to form my own scientific questions about them, has been incredibly formative. I am a lifelong outdoors enthusiast, but until my first field summer, I didn't know that I could combine my love of adventures in the wilderness with my passion for science. At the end of this summer, I will be starting a Ph.D. program in biogeochemistry at UC Davis; considering that I didn't even know what biogeochemistry was before working in our lab, you could say that these experiences have been pretty life-changing for me!
My particular research focus for the past few years has been nitrogen fixation in boreal peatlands - a pretty cool process by which microbes can turn nitrogen in the atmosphere (N2) into usable nitrogen for plants, and the main source of usable nitrogen in our peatlands. I'm interested in figuring out what controls the rates of this process in our ecosystems, and spent a lot of time this past year studying the role of molybdenum (Mo) and phosphorus (P) availability. I'm really excited to hopefully be able to keep collecting data on that project, as well as measuring rates of fixation at many other sites to determine the effects of nitrogen deposition (a major concern due to the proximity of the Athabasca Oil Sands Region) and time-since-wildfire. If last summer taught me anything, it's that science is as frustrating as often as it is fun, but I am stoked to start things up all the same.