It’s British Science Week (14th-20th March)! So this week, we’re celebrating science, technology and engineering all across the university.
To kick start the week, I thought I would tell you about a science experiment that sticks in my mind, which I carried out for my Research Skills Module during my second year of studying Zoology at The University of Manchester. I carried out this experiment during the field course in Alpine Biodiversity and Forest Ecology, which took place in the Italian Carnic Alps. As this field course takes place in the summer after second year, I doubt much has been said about this field course on the student blog in the past! So I’ll take now as the perfect opportunity to tell you a little more about this.
I will admit that I was a little nervous before setting off for 2 weeks secluded up in the mountains with people I didn’t know very well. I didn’t have a clue what to expect! But it actually ended up being a brilliant experience; I made some great friends, and I really made the most of the opportunity to take in the wonderful wildlife and biodiversity of the Alps. Waking up to this every morning definitely wasn’t a bad thing! —>
The aim of these field courses is to develop your research skills, which enable you to become confident and independent in carrying out your very own scientific investigation! This concept was very overwhelming at first, as we had the freedom to do a project about almost anything! After a few days of exploring the area, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I first came across the alpine salamander (Salamandra atra), that I realised I wanted to spend more time with these lovely little creatures.
I collected a number of salamanders from the field and returned them to the lab where I created an artificial environment for them. For my experiment, I measured the effect that different temperatures had on anti-predatory behaviour of these amphibians (i.e. how long it took for the salamander to run away from my poking finger). I videoed the trials so I could by calculate the speed of the salamanders from the distance they had travelled and how long it took them (Speed = Distance/Time). And because I finished my trials early, I got to carry it out on some adorable baby common toads (Bufo bufo) as well.
As well as learning how to construct and carry out my own experiment, I also developed my animal handling skills. To take an animal away from its natural habitat for any period of time is a rather stressful experience, so the well-being of the animals was well and truly in my hands. Before collecting the amphibians, I did lots of research about their preferred natural habitat, so I created the perfect little artificial home for them, making conditions as close to their natural environment as I could. I also made sure I completed my trials almost immediately after collection, so that they were in the lab for a very minimal amount of time and could be released back to their natural environment as soon as possible!
I got some nice but also rather confusing results, as the salamanders travelled significantly faster at warmer compared to ambient temperatures whereas the opposite effect was seen in toads, with a significant difference in speeds at cooler temperatures compared to ambient! But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter what your results were, even if they weren’t significant at all! As long as you could write a decent report at the end of it, explaining a possible reason for the pattern in your results! That shows that you are able to use scientific thinking to explain your results, and therefore well on your way to becoming a competent scientist. Experiments don’t always go as you had planned – but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, that’s just part of science! If the reality is different to what you expect, it could be telling you something very important!
This instance shows just one example of an opportunity to carry out interesting experiments as a Life Sciences student at The University of Manchester. We’ll be hearing about other students experiments all this week, so watch this space!
Happy Science Week!
To see the events going on at The University of Manchester for British Science Week, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/967829729936888/
For more information about our field courses, please visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/teachingandlearning/fieldcourses/