I am working in Christoph Aeppli’s lab; his research is about the toxicity of oil caused by oil spills. They found out that when oil is in the environment, it rapidly changes its composition, both during and after the spilling period. The Gulf of Mexico has various types and stages of oil in water and/or sediments. Oil degradation products are overlooked in current oil spill assessments, although they are potentially toxic to aquatic life. People eat seafood, so the harmful components will be in human bodies eventually. My research is also about the toxicity of oil after oil spills but only focused on the irradiated oil’s composition. The goal of my research is to investigate the main factors influencing the weathering of source oil and how oil weathering influences the toxicity of the weathered oil. Field samples collected during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill as well as samples that are artificially weathered by sunlight will be investigated. These samples will be analyzed for PAHs, n-alkanes, and carboxylic acids. Furthermore, toxicity assays (copepod and reactive toxicity) will be performed.
During working on my research, what interested me is knowing the equipment for analyzing the chemical composition and toxicity, like GC/MS and TLC-FI. I get to know how they work and how to read the graphs formed from them. It feels magical to get the information you need from complicated graphs. And the process of preparing samples for analyzing also refresh my impression. It is not as easy as just putting samples into the vials and putting the vials into the machine—you need to add different solutions into the samples in order to get a clear curve, and sometimes you need to add some kind of solution as “tracker” for the samples so that you can track whether you added more or less samples than you expected. What surprised me is that this research is not as hard as it sounds. It is complicated and has many procedures, but once you follow the procedures step by step, everything is easy to understand and easy to operate as long as you are careful enough. At the same time, the meticulousness of science really amazes me.
This research gets me to know science much better than before, how scientists think and how they put their thoughts into practice. I enjoy this a lot.
Haining Chen is a Wheaton College student in Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science’s semester-in-residence program. This intensive research experience is focused on ocean science within a changing global climate.