Student Blog: Living in the lab and the library

Students have been working hard with data analysis and submitting samples to CAIS for isotopic analysis. We’ve got a little over a week and a half left before our final poster symposium!

Adjusting to life in Athens was definitely difficult; especially without access to morning/midday/after work café! When we came back, we hit the ground running and all began tinkering with our personal projects and brainstorming what we needed to start putting them together. Some of us started work on isotopes while others spent countless hours pouring over books and papers. We also began attending an interesting array of talks held in Baldwin Hall. It ranged from hard science (such as dental micro-wear, dental histology, bioarchaeological basics, descriptive statistics, statistical applications, isotopic analysis, and ancient disease) to lessons on how to navigate the academic world (like writing cover letters and statements of purpose, applying and surviving through graduate school, applying to internships, field experiences, and volunteering).



Students work in the UGA Digital Humanities Lab in the library on data analysis

Most days, most of us have time set aside to work on our personal project as the poster presentation looms on the horizon. For some, that entails settling into the Digi-lab, located in UGA’s impressive library, and working on compiling, sorting, and finding meaning in my data. This means learning very many things about statistics and their applications in a very little amount of time. The results of the projects are still coming along, but everyone is having the same experience so it’s definitely a group effort. Becoming better scholars together has been such a privilege!


Being able to work in the lab has also been absolutely amazing. However, it requires a lot of patience and dedication. After being taught the many meticulous steps of how to extract collagen from the bone samples we collected in Italy, we have learned just how finicky these samples can be. Even so, we’ve become much more confident working in the lab and making some tough calls on when a sample is ready for the next step in the process. Thankfully, we are able to bounce our thoughts off of one another and come to a decision together. The three of us have come to work rather well together in this process, and have become quite the well-oiled machine when it comes to making acid changes, cleaning and rinsing samples, and checking the pH level of these samples once they have been put in the oven to dissolve.



Tom Maddox from CAIS shows the participants how the mass spectrometers work


While we have been exposed to the process of extracting collagen in our own lab, we had yet to observe how that collagen is processed for stable isotopes until our tour of the Center for Applied Isotope Studies. This UGA facility is home to one of the largest isotope lab in the country and one of its scientists, Tom Maddox, walked us through all it has to offer. After explaining how the mass spectrometers there are able to analyze stable isotopes, he showed us how this happens on the actual machines themselves. Being able to see inside of these machines was beyond cool. We’d say this experience was definitely one of the highlights of the REU so far, especially knowing how the work that scientists like Tom do actually incite policy changes and are used in everyday life. This tour sparked discussion about the paths of our own careers and how we hope that we too can change people’s lives.



Students learn about how the computer reads the information from mass spectrometers 


In the meantime though, you can find us in the lab or the library, fervently working on our projects.

Signing off,

Safaa & Autumn

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